pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Stand Firm, Hold Fast

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17

Verse 15: “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

The first five verses address some of the false teaching that has been a challenge to the people of faith in Thessalonica. Of focus is the event of Christ’s return. Some are falsely preaching that Christ already returned and that the church there missed it. Others are raising themselves up into the role of the Lord in an attempt to gain a following. While we can be susceptible to being led away from the truth, we tend to struggle today with what the world says is important: success, power, status, popularity, wealth… So verses 13-17 are still very relevant to our lives today as we seek to live faithfully.

In verse 13 Paul thanks God for this group of believers, chosen and saved by “the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.” He next attributes the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ as that which drew them to faith. Our personal relationship with Jesus, the ongoing work of the Spirit, the way of life we find through reading and studying the scriptures – these are the foundations that enable us to live faithfully as strangers or foreigners in this world. This is what Paul is encouraging in verse 15 when he writes, “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Continue to walk the walk of faith. Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul closes this section with a blessing. He asks for Jesus and God to “encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and work.” May this too be our blessing as we seek to walk in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, give us the will and the courage to stand firm and to hold fast to all we have received from you. Open our hearts to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. Open our minds to the words of life that we find in the scriptures. Open our hands and feet to the call of Christ to unconditionally love and humbly serve others just as he did. Amen.


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Our Stronghold

Reading: Psalm 43

Verse 2: “You are God my stronghold.”

Turning to Psalm 43 today it feels as if we are continuing on from yesterday. It is not just because we are staying in chronological order. It is not just because the authors remain the same. It is not just because verse 5 matched verses 5 and 11 from Psalm 42. In some ancient Hebrew manuscripts these were one Psalm. So in many ways we are continuing. The authors pour out emotions over the shame of their father’s rebellion. They try and make sense of how it has impacted them and their ministry.

There are times in life when we too are “collateral damage”. It can be personal, like it was for the Sons of Korah. Someone close to us does something wrong or sinful and it taints us by connection. Sometimes we are that person whose words or actions negatively impact those in our lives. It can also be more corporate. A poor choice of words or an inappropriate action by a leader or member of a group or organization adversely affects the whole entity. This can be far reaching. Again, we can be that person. We can all relate to the Sons of Korah.

In today’s passage the sons desire vindication. They do not want to be connected to Korah’s rebellion. It wasn’t their fault. We’ve been here too. Guilt by association is never good. Yet they do not stay here. In the next verse we read, “You are God my stronghold.” There is a deep trust and hope in God. There is a belief that God will see them through. May this be our faith as well!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the interconnectedness that you designed. In the good ways, it builds us up, it draws us together. Even in the tough or hard days it leads us to offer grace and forgiveness and mercy to one another. Even though challenging at times, I am grateful for your design and for your love that keeps it all together. Amen.


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Rejoice

Reading: Romans 5:1-2

Verse 2: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

‘Peace and Joy’ is the title of the first section in Romans 5. In chapter 4 Paul has worked the path from Abraham being “credited as righteous” by God to Jesus’ followers being justified (or made right) through his death and resurrection. This is the basis for Paul’s opening statement in chapter 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our sins no longer separate us from God. We have peace with God because Jesus’ work has paid the price and made atonement for our sins.

Continuing on in verse 2 we read that it is our faith that gives us access to the grace we find in Jesus. To make the choice to believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, that opens the door for his grace to actively work in our lives. Before choosing Christ, grace is at work. It is that sense of right and wrong, that feeling that we should forgive others, that little nudge in this direction or that. Recognizing these things as God at work in our lives, we are drawn towards relationship, towards inviting Jesus into our hearts. Choosing faith, we become an active partner with grace. Through grace we are drawn to be like Christ. Practicing his love and mercy, his servant’s heart, and his compassion for the lost, we enter into justification. The Spirit works in us, refining and reshaping and renewing us, helping us to become more and more like Christ.

As we live out this life of faith we begin to experience peace and joy more and more. Living this life of faith, we, like Paul, “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Peace and joy in our heart leads to hope in the glory of God that will be fully revealed when we see Christ face to face. Until that day grace draws us closer and closer to the image of Christ. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoice in the ways that you drew me into relationship long ago. Your love and kindness, your mercy and grace – they were water for my thirsty soul. I rejoice too in the work you have done in me and I ask you to continue refining and reshaping me day by day, drawing me deeper into your renewing love, guiding me closer and closer to experiencing your glory here on earth. Amen.


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Step by Step, Day by Day

Reading: John 16:12-15

Verse 15: “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

Photo credit: Simon Berger

Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” continues in today’s passage. In chapters 14-17 Jesus gives final instructions and encouragement to the disciples. Although he has told them repeatedly about his impending death and resurrection, words do not always prepare us for what we experience. We’ve all been there ourselves. Whether the loss of a loved one or the trauma of a pandemic or some other event, we have all found ourselves taken by surprise. In verse 12 Jesus recognizes the emotional state of the disciples. Here he says, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” This is a universal truth about faith. It is not a one-time fill up at the altar. Faith, hope, trust, belief… are built in small, incremental steps, over and over again, one built upon another.

In the 3 remaining verse Jesus speaks of the coming Holy Spirit. This too is an experience one cannot fully prepare for. The early believers could not have anticipated Pentecost any more that we can prepare for the change in our lives once the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts. Through the Spirit, Jesus promises guidance and wisdom. Jesus also connects the Holy Spirit to God and to himself. In verses 14 and 15 Jesus tells them that the Spirit will “take what is mine” and will “make it known to you.” Via the Holy Spirit, Jesus and God come to live in and through all who believe. The Godhead, the 3 in 1, walks with us day by day, teaching us and guiding us and building up our faith, hope, trust, belief… step by step. Thanks be to God for this ongoing, constant work in our lives of faith. To God be the glory!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for not simply giving us the words found in scripture and then leaving us on our own. What a sorry scene that would be. Without your presence, all would be lost. So thank you for continuing to be with us. Amen.


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Yes

Reading: Luke 1: 39-45

Verse 45: “Blessed is she [or he] who has believed that what the Lord has said to her [or him] will be accomplished.”

Today we walk with Mary, Elizabeth, and God. Both women have been chosen to give birth to babies that will change the world. Elizabeth, about six months ahead of Mary in her pregnancy, will give birth to the one who will prepare the way for the Messiah. Mary will give birth to the Messiah. The common way to approach them is to see Elizabeth as the one who was barren and to see Mary as the one involved in the virgin birth. These are parts of each’s story. These are amazing things that God did.

The women are amazing too. They said “yes” when God invited them to be a part of this world changing plan. Either or both could have fought it all the way. Imagine being 50 or 60 or older and receiving news that you were having a baby. Imagine being 12 or 13, unwed but at least engaged, and receiving news that you were having a baby. Would your reaction to this God news be the same as their reactions? They said “yes” and began to live into this plan to change the world.

When has God whispered a thought, a plan, a mission, a vision to you or I that was much less significant than Mary and Elizabeth’s and you and I did not say “yes”? Is your answer “often” too? These two women did not have training or experience with this sort of thing. There was not too much that was extraordinary about these two women. Except their faith in God. Their trust and belief was deep enough that they said “yes” when God came around. And look what happened. Both spoke prophetic words as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Both were a part of changing the world.

Part of Elizabeth’s words were these: “Blessed is she [or he] who has believed that what the Lord has said to her [or him] will be accomplished.” Yes, she is speaking of Mary here. She is also speaking about herself. Both women are blessed by saying “yes” and walking faithfully forward with God. God would like to whisper these same words over our lives. A “yes” might not change the world, but it might. It would at least change two lives. In those times when you or I have said “yes” to that whisper or nudge, have we not been blessed by being a part of God’s plan? With that truth in mind, may we go forth today with a willing spirit and a servant’s heart.

Prayer: Lord God, make me more of a “yes” person. Draw me deeper into you so that I become a more willing partner. Lead me to step out more boldly and faithfully when you call. Amen.


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Playing Our Part

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 5 and 6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”.

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Paul writes today about unity within the body of Christ – the church. Unity almost sounds like a foreign concept. Unity almost feels like an impossible dream. We seem to divide and separate over the smallest of things. Paul is seeing the churches he founded in and around Ephasus beginning to have fissures and cracks.

Inviting those in these churches to “live a life worthy of the calling”, Paul reminds them of some virtues to practice: humility, patience, gentleness, peace… To these he adds belief. In verses five and six he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Paul sees the church universal, not the church divided. Paul envisions the unity brought through Jesus Christ, not any divisions. I believe the same is still possible today. There are core beliefs that all churches have regardless of their denominational flavors: God, the creator of all things, sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to live out his love and to die to defeat the power of sin and death, paving the way for the salvation of our souls. You may word this or parts of it differently, but the ideas are the core of our faith.

The body of Christ can make the choice to live into unity instead of choosing division, to live into the core beliefs instead of accentuating differences and things that divide. Unity begins with each one of us – in our churches, then in our communities, then in our world. May we each commit to playing our part to bring unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the heart required to build unity. Lead me to elevate and value our core beliefs over our minor differences. May Jesus Christ become more of my focus. May our unity bring Christ the glory. Amen.


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Steadfast and Eternal

Reading: Mark 5: 35-43

Verse 36: “Don’t be afraid; just believe”.

Photo credit: Aron Visuals

Today we again pick up the story of Jairus and his daughter. The woman with the 12-year condition has been healed. It is now almost time to continue on so that Jesus can attend to Jairus’ daughter. But just as Jesus finishes speaking to the woman, men from Jairus’ house arrive to tell him, “Your daughter is dead”. In immediate response, “ignoring what they said”, Jesus says to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe”. We hear of no response or reaction from Jairus. He, Jesus, and Peter, James, and John leave everyone else behind and proceed to the house. Was Jairus still hopeful? Did he still believe in Jesus’ power? Was he just numbly walking along?

Arriving at the house, the mourning is already well under way. Preparations for death had been made. Clearing the house, Jesus takes Jairus and his wife plus Peter, James, and John to the little girl’s room. Taking her hand, Jesus calls her back to life. Immediately the daughter stands up and begins to walk around. Like the woman, she is completely healed, fully restored. Whatever had been killing the girl is totally gone. Jairus’ plea for help and all of the prayers lifted for this girl and her family are answered. Resisting fear and holding onto belief brings life to his little daughter.

The woman is healed. The daughter brought back to life. Does faith always lead to a good outcome? Does resisting fear always hold off grief or the time of trial? No, not always. Life will still happen – illness persists, death is final. Yet God is both of these too – steadfast and eternal. Trusting in God and believing that he is always in control is our strength in the storm. God can do the impossible. May we walk in faith, ever standing upon our steadfast and eternal God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are ever with me in the highs and lows plus all the places in between. May I be as true to you, O Lord. Amen.


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Humbly Turn

Reading: Psalm 20

Verses 1 and 2: “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress… protect you… send you help… grant you support”.

Returning to Psalm 20 today, we focus in on our need for God’s presence in our lives. To enter into the presence of God one must begin with a posture of humility. To recognize and admit our limitations and our inability to do all things opens space in our hearts to turn to the God who can do anything. This is what allowed David to enter the sanctuary to pray and to offer sacrifices. The focus of these actions was to align his heart with God’s heart, to check his own motives, to seek divine guidance. As decisions arise and as challenges come our way, a time of sincere prayer and soulful introspection engage God in the process.

The Psalm begins with a blessing prayer for our times of distress. It prays that the Lord will answer, protect, help, and support us in those times of hardship. David trusts that God will be there for him. His prayer reflects that same truth concerning all faithful people’s relationship with God. To trust requires belief, of course, but it also requires a willingness to submit to God’s will and ways. It places self behind the divine. Although to some surrender indicates weakness, to those who call upon the Lord, it provides access to the source of our true strength. God is the ultimate ally. In all things may we humbly turn to the Lord our God, trusting into his power and strength.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am weak, you are strong. When I am humble, you are glorified. When I am less, you become more. In all things, in all ways, make me obedient to you. Amen.


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Hope Eternal

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1

Verse 16: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”.

Photo credit: Aron Visuals

Paul begins our passage for today and tomorrow reminding us that because we believe in eternal life, we must speak of it. As ones who believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the grave, we also believe that we too will be raised. For Paul, we are to speak about this belief so that God’s grace may reach more and more people. As more and more people come to believe, God’s thanksgiving overflows.

These are important words to believe and to speak for our time and culture. Our post-Christian culture sees death as the enemy and goes to extraordinary means to stave it off. There is a pervading fear of death in our society. Even though our reality is that each day we are one day closer to our death, human beings will do much to try and thwart, to counter, to deny this reality. While even those who believe love life and want to have a long, good life, we do not fear death nor do we fight it’s coming when it is our time. We know a deeper truth in all of this. Paul writes of it in verse sixteen: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”. Hope. Our hope is founded on our belief in resurrection, in eternal life. There is more – much more – yet to come. And what will come is more wonderful – much more wonderful – than the best that the world has to offer.

Paul knows that this earthly tent, this body, is wasting away. It becomes more and more true for all who live into old age. Yet. Yet God remains at work in us to the very end, making us new every day, growing and developing the part of us that speaks what we believe, the part that overcomes and moves beyond this temporary world. As we live to the full today, may our lives speak of the hope eternal that grows in us day by day.

Prayer: Loving God, you renew me day by day, bringing me closer to your love. May my thanksgiving overflow into the lives of all I meet today. Amen.


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Truth

Reading: 1st John 5: 9-13

Verse 11: “This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son”.

Pilate once asked Jesus, “What is truth”? Pilate heard one thing from the Jews, another thing from Jesus, and yet another thing from his heart. For most of the world, this question remains open ended. If you watch one channel, this is truth. Not so if you watch another channel. If you listen to this expert, almost regardless of his or her field of study, there are other experts who will offer a different truth. Humans have gotten good at both twisting or spinning the story and at seeking out the truth that makes each of us happy or right or…

In today’s passage John offers divine truth. In calling on people to have faith in Jesus Christ, John raises God’s testimony over all human testimony. God himself identifies Jesus as his Son – the one whom God loves and is “well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). In our passage John connects God’s testimony about the Son to belief in Jesus Christ to receiving eternal life. To know that Jesus is God’s Son is to know that he has the power to save, to give eternal life. In verse eleven John puts it this way: “This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son”. We find eternal life in and through Jesus Christ, God’s Son. This is divine truth.

As I look out my window, I can see a small pine cone lying on the ground. I know it is there and I am thinking about getting it. Even if I decide to get it, it does not mean that I will. A zillion things could distract me. I could even tell you that I just went out and got it and it is right here on my desk – while it yet lies out on the ground. I could even take a picture of it in my hand to convince you that it’s on my desk. And yet it still lies out there on the ground. What is truth?

One can know that Jesus is the Son of God. One can believe that faith in Jesus leads to eternal life. One can say that they have Jesus in their heart, that they believe. In verse twelve John writes, “He who has the Son has life”. The life of Christ in us is not just eternal but it is here and now. Our lives are the testimony to Christ’s saving presence in our hearts. Do others regularly see and experience evidence of Jesus Christ in your life? This is the truth of faith: it is lived out, transforming both us and the world around us. Is this your truth?

Prayer: Lord God, may my life reflect your place in my heart. You are my only hope, my Lord and Savior, my all in all. May each word and action, each thought even, reflect Jesus in me. Amen.