pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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All the Glory

Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Verse 17: “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

As we return to Romans 8 today we acknowledge that although we are led by the Spirit as daughters and sons of God, we will still experience times of suffering and trial and hardship. These things are simply part of the human condition. While some we know suffer more than we do and while some suffering makes no sense to us (like the recent shootings in New York and Texas), suffering comes to us all. Our human tendency is to withdraw, to isolate. Yet as children of God, we are invited to walk with God through the challenges of life.

In verse 17 we read, “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” First, we belong to God. You belong to God. I belong to God. Because of that we are heirs to all that God promises: forgiveness of sins, everlasting love, eternal presence. All that God was for Jesus, God wants to be for us. Jesus said that he and God were one as God was in him and he was in God. The same is true for us. The Spirit lives in us, inviting us to be one with God.

Second, Paul connects our sharing in Christ’s sufferings to our sufferings. During his lifetime Jesus experienced persecution and grief and others kinds of human suffering. At the end of his ministry he experienced great physical and spiritual suffering. But in all of these experiences Jesus did not rely on his own strength or power. He turned to God and sought God’s presence. He relied on God’s power and strength. This brought God the glory. We too can rely on God in our times of trial and hardship and suffering. Turning to God we too admit our need for God. Seeking God’s presence… we will experience just that, knowing that we are not alone. May we invite God into our lives, bringing God all the glory. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, in all times, good and bad, may I seek your presence. Remind me again and again of your love and faithfulness so that I may ever praise your name, bringing you all the glory. Amen.


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One Life at a Time

Reading: Mark 6: 7-13

Verse 7: “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two”.

Returning to Mark 6 today, we see that Jesus leaves Nazareth after being rejected and continues to teach in other villages. With the rejection of Nazareth probably still fresh in their minds, Jesus “called the twelve and began to send them out two by two”. Jesus gives them authority and sends them out to proclaim the kingdom of God. He instructs them to rely on the good will and compassion of those who will receive the good news. They are not to take any money, any extra clothes, any provisions or food.

Jesus sends them out to do what he could not do in Nazareth. But he does send them out with this advice: if anyone or anywhere rejects you, just move on. “Shake the dust off” and move on. Yes, some will receive the good news and others will reject it. Jesus tells the disciples not to worry about that but to simply keep on with the preaching and healing. In other words, do what you’re being sent to do. Proclaim the good news of the coming kingdom.

As I reflect on this passage, it occurs to me that this too is our charge. In many ways we are like these disciples that were sent out into the world. As disciples of Jesus Christ we too are called to share the good news of the kingdom of God. As modern believers, we too must press on. As we do so, some will reject us, others will be intrigued. Some will come to faith in Jesus, some will not hear a word we say. Just as it was with the first disciples, success or failure does not change our charge. Whatever may come, may we ever strive to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world and a people in need, transforming our world one life at a time. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, whether by word or deed use me to build your kingdom here on earth. Help be day by day to share the good news of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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When I Am Weak

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 12: 2-10

Verse 9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As our passage today begins, Paul speaks of himself in the third person. He tells of a “man” who has a grand vision of heaven. There he witnessed “inexpressible things”. Paul could choose to tell all about this vision but he refrains. He does not want others to “think more of me” than they should. Paul’s language here reminds me of those ‘just asking for a friend’ questions we give or receive once in a while.

In our time many are drawn to leaders with awesome resumes, excellent credentials, and/or with amazing charisma and leadership skills. It was not any different in Paul’s day. There is never a shortage of people that want to lead or that think they are just the best leader ever. Both are in great supply. Paul could have boasted of his encounter with the risen Lord or of his vision of heaven. Instead he admits his weakness and his brokenness. He chooses the path of humility. Paul shares that he has a “thorn” in his flesh. It torments him and he has begged God to take it away. God will not. The Lord instead tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. The Lord allows the thorn to stay to remind Paul again and again that he’s not perfect, that he’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread. Paul can think back to his Pharisee days and say, ‘I once knew a guy like that…’

Paul was found by Christ and has matured in his faith. He now knows that when he is weak, Christ is strong. When insult or persecution or hardship comes, Paul now relies even more on Jesus Christ. It is then that Paul finds strength. It is then that we are strong too – when we rely on and trust in Christ. In humble faith may we ever turn to the only one who can save: Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, in Paul I see Jesus’ humble servant’s attitude. When I look within, may my life and leadership reflect this same grace and humility. Remind me of my flaws and weaknesses when I think too much of self. Thank you God. Amen.


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The True Kingdom

Reading: John 10: 16-18

Verse 17: “The reason my father loves me is that I lay down my life”.

We turn to John 10 for a second day in a row. Yesterday we were drawn to consider the present reality of God’s kingdom here on earth and to consider how we are each working to include others in said kingdom. Today we focus in on the how and the who of our task to draw others into the kingdom of God.

For Jesus, the how was laying down his life. Jesus did this literally, going to the cross to defeat the power of sin and then to and out of the grave to defeat the power of death. This obedient, sacrificial action reflects both Jesus’ love for God and for us. In turn, it draws God’s love and our love too. While we may not go as far as Jesus did with our obedient and sacrificial actions, we can certainly expect to be called upon to pay a cost as we seek to share the love of God with others. It may be financial, physical, emotional, relational. The ‘how’ will almost always involve giving something for or to the other. While this is often difficult, the real ‘who’ is harder.

When we consider Jesus’ ‘who’, is general they were Jews. The people Jesus spoke with and ministered to were often much like Jesus himself. This too is our general mission field – those we work with, associate with, maybe go to school with. Jesus also welcomed and engaged those from the edges and fringes – those society and formal religion rejected or avoided. Herein lies our real challenge. We like the neat and ordered, the understandable and routine. Our churches like these things too. But for the kingdom of God to be fully revealed, it must reflect our actual communities, in all of their beautiful diversity. To realize this we must be willing to engage and welcome those outside of our normal circles. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and unsure of the places and people we seek to connect with – only in these thin spaces will we really rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Only then will the margins and fringes be wiped away by the love of God, opening our community of faith to reflect the true kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Loving God, it’s easy to call upon or engage those like me, those inside the church. It is much harder to engage and love those who are not like me. Give me a willing spirit and a deeper trust in you. Go with me Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Into Our Hearts

Reading: Romans 5: 1-5

Verse 5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Chapter 5 begins by reminding us of some truths of our faith: peace through justification, access to Jesus Christ through grace, and rejoicing in the glory of God. Walking in faith certainly fills this life with peace, grace, and joy. A life of faith, however, does not shield us from the hard or difficult side of life. Because we are humans, made of flesh and bone, we will experience times of illness and even death, times of trial and pain. Paul acknowledges that as Christians we will suffer. But he also points out that we do not suffer as the worldly suffer.

Just as your relationship with your spouse or family or a friend is strengthened when you go through something hard together, so too is our relationship with God strengthened when we walk through a trial with God. When we turn to God, when we lean into God, when we rely on God – we find that God is always right there. In verse five we read about the closeness of God. Here Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. The presence and strength and comfort and peace of God is right there within us as the Holy Spirit is “as close as our next breath”.

Paul walks us through the steps or progression of the deepening relationship that we experience as we continually walk with the Lord and Spirit. We first learn to persevere; this is built through Christ’s presence in previous trials. We next learn to maintain a Christly character; this is built both by walking with Christ in our trials and by reflecting on the ways that Jesus himself endured times of suffering. Lastly, we come to have a growing hope. This comes to pervade all of life, but is especially present in the trials. And Paul also reminds us that “hope does not disappoint”. If doubt or fear or anything else begins to creep in, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit whispers, “I am here”, reminding us once again of the Lord’s presence with us and within us. Thanks be to God for the closeness of Jesus Christ in our hearts. May you ever walk in his love, grace, and hope!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your constant presence in my life. I am so grateful for the ways that you surround me in the trials. Thank you for the Spirit that so often reminds me that I am not alone, that you are right there with me. All praise and glory and honor are yours, O God! Amen.


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One Step at a Time

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 4-14

Verse 9: “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”.

The dry bones in the valley represent Israel and the current condition of their collective faith. As the prophet sent to Israel during part of their exile, Ezekiel would have been well aware of the peoples’ sins and their current reality. This part that connected to their past probably saddened him greatly. The dry bones scattered across the valley floor are a stark and vivid reminder of their disobedient past. I can look back at seasons in my faith journey and can see how God would portray those times as a valley of dry bones. Most of us probably could. For others, maybe it feels like they are in the valley right now.

God says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”. God does not plan to leave the Israelites in this valley forever. God has a better future planned for his people. God has chosen Ezekiel to bring this word to his people. Knowing that God will bring new life to the nation of Israel would give Ezekiel and those who heard his prophetic message some hope. Knowing the end of the current story brings one hope in the valley, but it can be hard to wait and to walk faithfully towards the future that God has planned. It is hard because we want the better future NOW. The added challenge for the exiles is that their faith is dry. How does one walk faithfully with dry or no faith?

The answer is not complex: one step at a time. Ezekiel knew this was a vision, but he still obediently played his part. In one way this is a practice run. In reality he will seek to breath spiritual life into the people living in exile. Today, when one is in the valley or when one is living exiled from God, the steps are still the same: trust in God’s love, act on what God is leading you to, and rely on God’s power and strength for the journey. Each day may we see as God sees, stepping forward in faith.

Prayer: Loving God, when the future seems uncertain, give me the faith to take that first step. Through the power of the Holy Spirit guides me in obedience. Step by step may I follow. Amen.


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First and Always

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 3: “Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test'”?

Moses is leading the people on a journey to the Promised Land. It will be a forty years journey. When I think of the length of the journey, it reminds me of the long drives to Montana. Sometimes before we even left South Dakota, the “Are we there yet?” refrains would begin. When that happened I knew it was going to feel like a long trip. Even though it was only an eleven hour drive, I think it felt a little bit like Moses was feeling in our passage today.

The Israelites have recently been rescued from slavery in Egypt. In this process, God brought plague upon plague, finally breaking Pharaoh’s spirit with the death of the firstborn. The Israelites were passed over by the angel of death. This miracle became an event they celebrate every year, to this day. The hand of God continued to be upon Moses as he parted the sea and saved the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptian army. God has just provided manna, quail, and water to all the people. As they set out once again the people find themselves at a place with no water. Instead of turning to God in prayer, thanking him for the many saving acts that they have just experienced and seeking one more, they choose to grumble at and quarrel with Moses. In response Moses asks, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test“? I imagine God was thinking the same thing, don’t you?

At times I’m sure I’ve made God think that. I know God loves and cares for me, provides for and protects me, leads me and guides me. Even so, trust in God is not always my default response when a need arises or when I find myself in a time of trial. Seeking God is usually my first response, but not always. And it should be always. Maybe you are like me and know your need to turn to God first and always. As we remember how dearly loved we are by God may we make intentional efforts this week to rely first on God in all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, I know no one loves me like you do. No one has good plans for me like you do. May the Spirit remind me of these things over and over as I seek to follow Jesus more closely. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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A Model to Follow

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 3: 6-9

Verse 9: “We did this in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow”.

As the church in Thessalonica begins to develop, there are some growing pains. It is to be expected with most new organizations. Paul and others have come and taught the good news of Jesus Christ. They have taught new believers what it looks like to live out the gospel in a community of faith. Paul and the others could not stay there forever, so now the church continues along on their own. As it does so, new churches need occasional reminders and sometimes they need the ones who planted it to come back for a refresher course.

Most of the content of Paul’s letters falls into two categories. He often writes to continue teaching both churches and individuals about how to live out the faith. These instructions can be applied to most churches and to the lives of most believers. Paul also writes to bring correction or to address as issue. These passages tend to be more direct and address a certain church, believer, or group of believers. Yet, at times, even these can be applied to churches and people. Our struggles are often the same. We find both of these categories in 2nd Thessalonians.

In the section we read today, Paul is addressing two groups that are having a negative impact on the church. There are some who are idle – they are not willing to work. They are simply relying on the generosity of others to get by. Paul reminds them that this was not the example that they set. Paul and friends “worked day and night” so that they could contribute rather than be a burden. Churches today have idle folks. Some are those that come around only when they need something. Others are those who are present but never give. They do not serve in the church and they do not give financially. They come and take and go back home.

Paul also addresses those who “do not live according to the teaching” that was given. Being idle would be one example. Similarly, in churches today, there are people who fall into this category. They come on Sunday morning or Saturday night and worship and bow their heads and listen to the message. Then they go out the door and live a worldly life. Their faith has little or no impact on the other 167 hours of their week.

To all of these Paul says, “We did this in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow”. We, like the church in Thessalonica and like the believers that made up that church, are all works in progress. At times we must pause and consider our progress and seek out areas where we are falling short. Is Paul speaking to you today? Could you offer more to your church? Could your walk of faith be more consistent or be closer to the example set by Jesus Christ?

Prayer: Lord God, as I consider these questions, I know I am far from the example set by Paul and especially far from the example set by Jesus. Draw me deeper into you and your love today. May this love be reflected out in all of my life. May it be so, O God. Amen.


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Right with God

Reading: Psalm 26

Verse 2: “Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind”.

Psalm 26 is a cry of the innocent, of the unjustly treated. David is crying out to God, seeking for God to be on his side, for God to ‘vindicate’ him.

At some point in our life we have all been where David is. We have all been falsely accused. We have all been treated poorly and unfairly. We have all felt the frustration of being stuck in these situations, feeling as if there were no end in sight.

David’s case begins with an invitation to God to “test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind”. David knows that he is not at fault and he wants God to know for sure as well. David goes on to list the ways in which he has avoided the evil men – those who perhaps would do what he has been accused of or slandered about. David also professes his faith in God. It is a faith that leads David to proclaim God’s praise and to express his love for God. We too may think along these lines. We do so when we wonder how bad things could happen to good people. We question, how could this happen to your faithful servant? How can this happen to someone who so loves God?

The Psalm closes with a plea for God to redeem him and to be merciful to him. At times we are here too – we can do no more and we rely on God to take it from there. We please with God to take up our case because we have hit the bottom. As he closes, David again reiterates his way innocence. He is standing on level ground – all is good within him. He is right with God. From this place of the heart, he will praise the Lord. We too can be in this place. We too can make our heart totally right with God. With a clean and right heart may we praise the Lord with our life today.

O Lord, hem me in with your love and mercy, that I may walk a blameless life. When I falter, may your grace and compassion draw me back in quickly. With a clean and right heart may I bring glory and honor to you this day. 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.