pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Best of All…

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 11-14

Verse 13: “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow”.

Verse eleven opens with God’s promise to ransom and redeem his children from “the hand of those stronger than they”. These words remind me of our daily battle with evil and the other lures of the world. Although God is way stronger, in our human weakness sometimes it feels like we are weaker. Paul wrote of this in Romans 7. We too do what we do not want to do and we fail to do what we want to do. We are ever wrestling with sin. The good news for us is that hundreds of years after Jeremiah gave this promise, God did ransom us with Jesus’ life.

Verse twelve turns to the peoples’ response. With shouts of joy the people celebrated the Lord’s bounty. They felt like a “well-watered garden” and they enjoyed the provision of God. Each of us is also blessed. There are so many things that I can count as blessings, but none more important than my relationship with Jesus Christ. As modern day Christians, we are so blessed. We too can join the Israelites in joyfully thanking God for the bounty we receive. In verse thirteen’s opening line dancing follows joy. Go ahead and dance if so inclined!

In the second half of verse thirteen we read, “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow”. This continues to be God’s promise. In this life we will have our times or even seasons of mourning. God’s promise still remains – to give us comfort and joy. God’s love never fails. It continues to wash over us, even in times of sorrow, when we are willing to receive his love.

As we enter 2020 today, these words of the prophet Jeremiah are great reminders. The general tone reminds me of John Wesley’s dying words: “Best of all, God is with us”. Yes, God is. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I begin 2020, I rejoice that I am yours and that you are mine. In the coming year, use me as you will. Lead and guide me, strengthen and encourage me. Walk with me into a world in need. Amen.


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Servant?

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Verse 1: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”.

Paul begins his letter to the Roman church by first identifying himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ”. Pause for a moment and consider what that word really means – servant. In Paul’s time a servant was totally subservient to the master. As such, their whole life was wrapped up in doing things for the master. They would go where told, would do whatever they were told to do. Their own will, desires, wants, thoughts, feelings were rarely considered. Paul sought to be a servant of Jesus Christ.

Today titles are important. Back in Paul’s day family names and birth places were important – Jesus of Nazareth, the sons of Zebedee… These adjectives described someone. Today we are first identified by our occupation. Meeting someone new, the first question is usually ‘What do you do’? When asked, I tell people that I am a Methodist pastor. Our own self-identity is very much wrapped up in what we do. So imagine, for a moment, the reactions and responses I would get if I answered as Paul did, telling others that I am a servant of Jesus Christ. You too can imagine the responses that this answer would draw.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are supposed to be servants of our Lord and King. Jesus himself came to be a humble servant and called us to follow his example. Because we do not first self-identity as a servant of Jesus Christ, there are two truths we must wrestle with. These truths are at the core of why we do not identify this way. Perhaps we are unwilling to really assume this role. We are reluctant to make all of our desires and all of our will subservient to Christ. We are OK with “most”. The second truth is the reality that would come with claiming such a title. To say we are a servant of Jesus implies quite a commitment. In the Advent series at our church we have been talking about what it would mean to be an “altogether Christian”. Such a person is a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul is making a high claim in his title of “servant”. Are we willing to do the same?

Prayer: God, the journey has been one of committing more and more to you and to doing your will. Even then, though, I know I am just “mostly” committed. Help me to move closer to “all in”, closer to loving and serving you with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. May it be so. Lord, may it be so. Amen.


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Actions of Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11: 8-16

Verse 8: “By faith Abraham, when called to go… obeyed and went”.

Within chapter eleven, the “Hall of Fame” of faith, we find many examples of those who demonstrated great faith. Our section today is focused on Abraham. As a younger man, while still known as Abram, he moved with his father to Haran. They settled there and began to establish themselves. Then, in Genesis 12, Abram receives a call from God to move to a new and unknown land. God promises Abram that he will become “a great nation” and then, a handful of chapters later, God promises him that he will have descendants as numerous as the sand on the shore who will one day be given the Promised Land. In faith Abraham responded to God’s initial call and moved his family, slaves, livestock… to this unknown land. They were strangers and foreigners living in tents. God too was faithful. The promises and covenants came and were fulfilled. Abraham and Sarah had many children and they became established in the new land.

We too will hear God’s call. We too will wrestle with some of the calls – especially those that lead us away from the familiar and comfortable. For most of us, the call is not to pack up all we own and to follow God’s lead to a new home. For a few it is their call. Most of us experience a call that is much more local. Our calls are to help the family down the street, to befriend that lonely soul, to take the time to listen and to be present to the one that is hurting, to serve at church as a teacher or on a team or committee, to tutor that student struggling in school… God calls us in many different ways and to a wide variety of service. No matter the call, our willingness to step out and to follow where God leads demonstrates our faith. To listen and then to obey, to trust and then to step out in faith – these are the actions of faith. May these be our actions today and throughout our journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, each day you offer opportunities for me to step out and to step up. Give me a willing and obedient heart. Amen.


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18″ Journey

Reading: Job 42: 1-6

Verse 5: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you”.

In our passage today, for Job, God has made that 18″ journey. Previous to his great trials, Job was a righteous man. He was obedient in following the Law. He worshipped God on the Sabbath, he gave to his local synagogue, he spoke to God daily. In life, Job was an honest man, a hard worker, a person who could be counted on. Job lived a blessed life – a wife, lots of children, large herds and flocks, many servants, good friends. Job was blessed and saw God as the source of his blessings.

Then one horrible day the storm hit and Job’s world was rocked. It was not a doctor saying they had found cancer. It was not a spouse saying they were done with the marriage. It was not a boss handing him a pink slip. These are horrible things that we and those we love experience. For Job, it was losing all of his kids, flocks, herds, and servants. And then being covered in painful sores.

Job succeeded in two things during his trial: he knew that God was still with him and he knew that God was ultimately in control. Yes, Job questioned why all this was happening to him – much like we do in our trials. But Job held onto God. In the wrestling with and questioning of God, Job was transformed. Verse 5 speaks of this: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you”. Job knew who God was and he followed all His rules – because that is what you do. He knew who God was and he followed out of obedience. But then Job experienced God up close and personal. He got to know God because of and through the trial. God made that 18″ journey from head to heart. Job now had a personal relationship with God.

If God exists in your head, may the Lord bless you with a season of wrestling and questioning, drawing you into relationship. If God dwells in your heart, join me in rejoicing as we shout “thanks be to God”!

Lord, I thank you for dwelling in my heart. I thank you for such a great love that loves even me. I pray for my fellow brothers and sisters who have begun their journey but gave yet to surrender their heart. Move in them, Lord, to become the king of the throne of their heart as well. May it be so. Amen.


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To God What Is God’s

Reading: Matthew 22: 18-22

Verse 20: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

There are certain times when we must give something.  In our real life worlds there are times when I must give hours to my job.  There are times when I must give time to my school work.  There are times when I must give attention to my health.  These are but a few of the demands on our time.  I also must give love to my family and friends, compassion to those in need that I encounter, kindness to the stranger.  And lastly I must give money to the cell phone company and to the grocery store, to the restaurant and the university.  There are many things that demand our time, our emotions, and our money.  Although many of these are “required”, to decide how and where we “spend” all that we have left takes some serious prioritizing.

In today’s passage, Jesus is faced with a tough question.  To answer one way will anger the religious leaders; to answer the other way will anger the political leaders.  It appears to be a no-win situation.  At times our choices on how and where we spend our time, emotions, and money can feel the same way.  To all gathered there that day, Jesus gives an amazing answer.  He says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”.  If this coin stamped with the image and title of Caesar is due to Caesar, give it to Caesar.  For the most part we willingly follow this concept today – paying our bills and taxes to whom they are due.

The second half can be a bit harder.  Yes, I can give that one hour on Sunday morning and that hour once a month to my committee.  And, sure, I can give $10 a week to the offering.  Well, okay, I’ll even go once a year to cook and serve the meal at the rescue mission.  Others far exceed giving these 70 hours and roughly $500 a year to their image-bearer.  Many in both groups wrestle with the question of giving enough.  They realize how much God gives them and they wrestle with what they are giving to Him.  It is a good wrestling.  God will place upon our hearts the call for our time, our emotions, our money.  It is a personal decision born out of a personal relationship with our God.  We are made in God’s image, blessed by His love and care.  This day, what shall we give?


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Holding On

Reading: Genesis 32: 22-31

Verse 28: You have struggled with God and men and have overcome.

In a time of need, God once again comes to Jacob.  Even when Jacob cannot quite put into words the things he is feeling and needing, God enters the situation because that is what Jacob needs God to do.  God and Jacob wrestle and Jacob shows his inner grit and determination.  This time of physical testing leaves him changed.  He will always walk with a limp and he will have a new name.

As they wrestled, Jacob’s hip was touched and was wrenched.  Even this painful injury that would result in Jacob limping for the rest of his life could not force him to let go or to give up.  He held on.  He continued to wrestle with God.  Jacob passed this test.  The limp he carried forth will always remind him of when “You have struggled with God and men and have overcome”.

Jacob also walks away with a new name.  God has deemed him worthy to carry on the covenant.  This is the result of Jacob demanding a blessing from God.  He held on and would not let go of God until he received it.  Jacob demonstrates boldness and confidence by holding on until his answer is given.  He asks God for something big and holds on, expecting God to answer his request.

In our relationship with God, do we wrestle with God and stick with it so that we also overcome?  In our prayers, do we demonstrate Jacob’s boldness and determination?  When we need God – whether for an answer to prayer or for some other involvement in our lives – we should expect God to come through.  We should be open and honest with God.  At times that means we will be demanding.  Like Jacob, our prayers should be big enough that they demand an answer.  We should pray with the expectation of our answer and we should wrestle with God until the answer comes.  God desires good for us.  Do we wrestle with God like we trust this promise?  May we, like Jacob, cling to God, holding on to Him for all we need.


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Hold Tightly

Reading: Genesis 32: 22-31

Verse 24: Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.

God directs Jacob to return home.  He is being led to return to the family that he tricked and stole from.  This worries Jacob.  As he nears home, he sends all his family and all he owns across the stream and he remains alone on the far side.  The scene is set for some alone time with God.

At times we find ourselves in a similar situation.  We are returning to or going someplace that causes us some fear or worry or anxiety.  We may be the cause of it or it could be from things outside of us that are causing the uneasiness.  Yet we know we must go.  Here we too seek some guidance or direction or encouragement from God.  We want to know that we do not go alone.

“Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him till daybreak”.  As turmoil stirs around inside Jacob, a man comes and wrestles with him.  It could be an angel.  It could be a man sent by God.  It could be God.  Whatever the case, Jacob realizes that this is a powerful foe and this leads him to demand a blessing.  He has already sent quite a blessing across the stream – his wives and children, his large herds and flocks, and his many possessions.  Yet he demanded more.  God has blessed him and now he asks for more.
In our times of trial and stress, we who have also been blessed often go to God asking for more.  Sometimes God will allow us to do a bit of wrestling too.  God will allow us to sit in our feelings of uncertainty and fear because it leads us back to Him.  He wants to know if we too will hold on tightly.  Jacob does not give up in the wrestling match and he is rewarded.  He receives a new name – Israel – the one who struggled with God.  Jacob departs the scene knowing that God is with him.  It is now a hopeful future for Jacob.

At times we too will wrestle with God.  We too will struggle and ask the “why” questions.  In this story we see that God is faithful to those who hold tightly to Him, to those who remain steadfast.  May we ever hold tightly to our God, trusting in His blessings.