pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God’s Abiding Presence

Reading: Psalm 124

Verse 1: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

Photo credit: Shane

Although the Psalm is filled with times of trial, it is a song of ascent, a song of praise. These words of David recognize the difficulties and hardships of life and also remind us of God’s abiding and constant presence. God’s presence does not isolate or shield us from pain or grief or conflict or unwanted change but does walk with us through all of life.

The phrase “if the Lord had not been on our side…” leads into a series of times of challenge. If not for the Lord, when the enemy attacked and their anger rose, then they would have “swallowed us alive.” The attack was like a flood that would have engulfed them and swept them away – “if the Lord had not been on our side…” When my loved one died suddenly and the grief began to paralyze me, if not for the Lord I would have become totally overwhelmed. If not for the Lord, I could not have moved on after unexpectedly losing my job. When the diagnosis rang in my ears, I would have spiraled down and down if not for the Lord’s abiding presence. We too can sing of the Lord’s presence in our times of trial and hardship. We too can say over and over: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

The Psalm connects well into yesterday’s call to know and share our faith story. Each of these moments when God walked through the valley with us strengthens our faith. Each of our experiences with God’s abiding presence reinforces the truth that “our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” When God places another in our path that is walking through a valley that we’ve been through, may we come alongside them to share the story of God’s abiding presence.

Prayer: Lord God, I don’t like walking through the valleys. Yet I know that they are a part of life. Thank you for being there with me in those times of pain and loss and hurt. Empower me to walk with others through their valleys. Amen.


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Live Agape Love

Reading: John 15: 9-11

Verse 9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”.

Today is the first of three days in this passage from John 15: 9-17. Each day centers on love – the defining characteristic of God and of Jesus’ life and ministry. As followers of Jesus Christ love should be our leading and defining characteristic as well. As we begin, let us clarify what this love is.

The word for love that Jesus uses in this passage is “agape”. This is not a romantic love or a brotherly love. Agape love is a sacrificial love – it is a love that places the needs and sometimes wants of the other ahead of our own. Agape love is unconditional love – a no-matter-what love. Other loves can be sacrificial or unconditional when elevated to this highest form of love. But agape love will remain sacrificial and unconditional by its nature.

In today’s three verses the focus is on remaining or abiding in God’s love and in Jesus’ love. Verse nine invites us: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”. Here we get a picture of the nature of this love as well as how to remain connected to this powerful and divine love. God loved Jesus and, in the same way, Jesus loves us. The breadth of this love was first demonstrated in the incarnation. Leaving all divinity and power behind, God humbled himself and took on flesh and dwelt among us. This necessary step allowed Jesus to model what God’s love looks like when lived out to the full. In this we see that love is an action, not a noun. The depth of God’s love is demonstrated in sending Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. This sacrifice replaced the old system. In the old system there was a price paid too, but the guilt and shame remained. The offering of a bird or lamb or cow met the price but the animal’s life could not bring forgiveness. Only the blood of the perfect one, Jesus Christ, shed in sacrificial and unconditional love, could wash away our sin and the guilt and shame as well. Only Jesus’ no-matter-what love can do that.

As followers we too are called to live agape love. The commands to love God and to love neighbor are rooted in this agape love. This day may we love God and others as Jesus first loved us.

Prayer: God of love, the breadth and depth of your love is amazing and powerful. It is both humbling and enabling. It is undeserved yet abundantly given. Use me to model and reflect this love to all I meet. Amen.


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Faithful and Abiding Presence

Reading: Acts 3: 12-19

Verse 16: “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong”.

In the opening verses of Acts 3 Peter heals a crippled beggar. The man had been carried to the same temple gate for years. All who came and went from the temple would know who this man was. This day he begs for Peter and John to give him some money. Instead, Peter commands him to walk in the name of Jesus. Instantly the man is made strong. He enters the temple courts, “walking and jumping” and praising God.

The people who saw this man walking and jumping were astonished. Peter asks them, “Why does this surprise you”? He then asks why they stare at John and himself, “as if by our own power or godliness” the man was healed. Peter continues on, explaining that it was the power of the risen Christ that healed the man. In verse sixteen he says, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong”. This complete healing has come through faith in Jesus Christ.

At times we too experience the healing or renewing or comforting or strengthening power of Jesus Christ. His power fills us as we pray or as we meditate on scripture. His power fills us as we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. His power fills us as we step beside another in love and compassion. Sometimes Jesus’ power comes in unseen or unexpected ways – that friend who calls just when we need their wisdom or loving words, that opportunity that opens up just when we are desperate for work, that peace that surrounds us just when we think we cannot go on. In many of these cases, we too stand in wonder, amazed at the power of Jesus Christ to change lives. Today may we pause and thank God for our own “times of refreshing” that come from the Lord. Thanks be to God for his presence and love!

Prayer: Lord, for all the times when you have shown the way, lifted me up, carried me through, spoken into my heart, strengthened my weary soul… thank you. Thank you for your abiding and faithful presence. Amen.


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Testing the Lord

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-4

Verse 2: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”?

Somewhere along the line I once heard that it takes ten positives to overcome one negative. For example, at a dinner party I would need to receive ten positive comments to balance out or get past one negative comment. While the 10:1 ratio varies from person to person, it does illustrate the power of our words. Kind words build others up and unkind words tear others down. As followers of the Lord of love, we need to be speakers of kindness and love.

As the Israelites continue on their journey in the desert they camp at Rephidim, near Horeb. There was no water there so the people begin to quarrel with Moses. The whole conversation is a familiar refrain. We can read this into Moses’ words as he responds to their quarreling by saying, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”? Moses is really questioning their trust in God. Do the people still not trust that God is in control and that God loves them? How many signs must you see? Clearly they have forgotten the parting of the sea and the bitter water becoming good and the quail and manna from heaven. All that God has done for them – it is now like none of that happened.

At that hypothetical dinner party the guests could rave about the appetizers and the starter salad, about the main dish and various sides, and so on. It is all wonderful until the “I didn’t like the ___” comes. All else is forgotten like it was never said. We are like this with God too. Our faith life can be great. Our daily time with God and our worship can lead us to feel that our faith is strong and that our relationship with God is really solid. We feel loved and we know our place as a child of God. And then something negative happens or a challenge arises. It doesn’t even have to rise to the level of losing a job or a loved one. It can be a smaller thing – like someone else getting the promotion or not making the team. Suddenly we are questioning God and his love and care for us. We quickly forget all the other blessings and ask, “Why all these good days, only to endure this”? Oh, how we too must test the Lord our God at times.

In those moments, may the Holy Spirit remind us of God’s abiding and deep love for each of us. May we trust that the sea will part, that the water will come from the rock, that God will provide. In faith may we walk with the Lord day by day. Amen.


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Holy and Blameless

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Verse 13: “May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be holy and blameless… when our Lord Jesus comes”.

In our passage today, Paul is writing to a persecuted church. The Christians suffered for their belief in Jesus Christ. Paul is writing to encourage them to keep the faith. In a world that is often attacking their faith, it must have been hard to always be light and love to the world.

In our country, persecution is not widespread. I do not fear going to church tomorrow nor do I try and keep my identity as a pastor secret. Even so, even in America, at times Christians do face forms of persecution and do suffer for their faith. This is part of the times in which we live. We are now living in between the fall of man and the restoration of all things when Jesus returns in final victory. As followers of Jesus we do have the model that Jesus himself lived out. He gave us the example of how to live a life obedient to God regardless of the cost.

The Christians that Paul was writing to also relied on the witness and teaching of Jesus. They also turned to the Word as well. The Thessalonicans kept the faith because they knew the promises and trusted them. Through faith they lived with God’s love, grace, mercy, and hope. Through faith they were blessed with God’s presence, strength, comfort, and assurances. They daily lived out verse 13: “May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be holy and blameless… when our Lord Jesus comes”.

When our lives become stressed and the voices of discord and unrest and questioning and even persecution arise, may we too remember and cling to the promises. When suffering comes our way because of our faith, may we rejoice as we welcome God’s communion with us, walking by our side. In the persecution and suffering, in the trial, may we fully rely on God, walking holy and blameless in His sight – not on our own but fully in God’s power and might.

Prayer: Lord – thank you for your abiding presence in the good and in the bad. You are always near. Thank you Lord. Thank you. Amen.


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Trust Fully

Reading: John 6: 60-69

Verse 68: “Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life'”.

Our passage today picks up where we left off yesterday. Jesus has shared a teaching that was hard to accept. Some folks were having a hard time with the requirement that Jesus was placing upon them. Jesus has claimed to be of God and that to find true or eternal life, one must believe in Jesus. The proof of belief is daily living with Jesus – abiding in Christ. In response to the people’s grumbling, Jesus says, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life”.

Jesus states plainly that some there do not believe and that one can come to Jesus only if God enables it. Elsewhere in the Bible this idea is phrased “eyes to see” or “ears to hear”. It is a willingness that God must open in our hearts to accept Jesus for who He is. Many of the disciples are not at this point as the Word tells us that many “turned back and no longer followed Him”. They left and turned back to their old way of life or to their old belief system.

For most of us modern disciples, we too come to this same point now and then on our faith journey. We realize that we are not quite where God wants us to be and know in our heart that our full trust in Jesus is falling just short. In those moments, God is calling us deeper. He has led us, or ‘enabled’ us in this passage’s language, to the place of taking the next step. We have heard Jesus’ words of life and felt the invitation to take another step of faith.

In our passage, Jesus asks the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you”? Peter, the one who would become the “Rock”, answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. Peter knows that Jesus is the Holy One of God. Peter knows that Jesus us the Messiah and the only way to eternal life. He knows and is willing to take the next step with Jesus, wherever it might lead. This day may we join Peter in declaring that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, trusting fully in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. And this day or tomorrow or whenever it may come, may we be willing to take that next step of faith, trusting fully in the Holy One of God. May it be so.


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Ever Abiding Presence

Reading: Romans 8: 15-17

Verse Sixteen: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God”.

One thing that life surely brings is change. Some if it is welcomed and looked forward to and some change is unwanted and brings feelings of anxiety or fear. Some change we bring upon ourselves and other change happens outside of our control. Change can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances or our place in life. For example, a job change can be from a promotion or because a great new opportunity presented itself. Or it can be because of a layoff or termination or because the company was forced to go out of business.

Amidst the change that is sure to come in life, we need a foundation that is solid and unchanging. That foundation is our faith. Our relationship with our Savior gives us a peace in this life and a hope and promise for the life to come. Faith brings contentment in the day to day life and strength in the storms of life and a blessed assurance in the trials. All of this comes through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Paul reminds us that through Jesus we do “not receive a spirit that makes us a slave to fear”. Instead we are made God’s children. Verse sixteen reads, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God”. Not only does the Spirit testify but we do too – in our core we sense that we belong to God’s family too.

Since we belong we are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”. Yes, we will share in His sufferings. That is a good thing. We are blessed when we are willing to sacrifice for others, when we are willing to play others and their needs ahead of our own. Because we are heirs we also have a future promise. One day we will share in His glory. One day we will see Him face to face and we will walk forever in His light and love. It will be glorious indeed.

Amidst the change that life brings and amidst the trials and sufferings that also come with life we have the ever abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Thank you God for this blessed gift.