pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Being In and Sharing Out

Reading: Psalm 147: 1-11 and 20

Verse 11: “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love”.

Using the opening verses of Psalm 147, we focused yesterday on some of the ways that God loves and cares for humankind. Recognizing God’s love and care led the psalmist and calls us to praise God. In verses ten and eleven the focus shifts slightly. Although God created the world and all that is in it, God does not find pleasure or delight in the “strength of the horse” or in the “legs of a man” or in any other physical thing or attribute. We feel loved when we reflect on God’s care for us, but we do not praise or worship the home or food or whatever else God provides. We worship and praise the one who creates and provides these things.

God finds pleasure and delight in us, those created in his image. In verse eleven we read, “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love”. God delights in those who live in reverence and awe of who God is: holy and perfect, all-knowing and all-seeing, loving and merciful, just and compassionate. God delights in those who place their hope in his love. God finds pleasure when we live in close relationship with God, when we have faith in God, not in any of the things of this world.

How do we live our lives in such a way that shows God that our relationship with him is the most important thing in our life? It begins by striving to follow his example of love and compassion, justice and grace, healing and community. The example was given by God incarnate in Jesus. We show God by connecting with him – personally in prayer and study, corporately in worship and discipleship. If all we say and do is aimed at being in God’s presence and sharing that presence with the world, then we are “living praise” – bringing glory to the Lord. This day may we each be living praise, glorifying God in all that we are.

Prayer: Lord, you are my all in all. Without you I would be lost. Fill me to overflowing with your presence so that all I meet sense your love being poured out into their lives. Amen.


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God’s Design

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5:11

Verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

On our faith journeys, we can try and go it alone. We are embarrassed by or ashamed of our sins and failures. We go through the motions of faith and pretend we are doing okay when our faith feels dry or when a trial has beset us. We try and push through seasons of doubt because society tells us we just need to try harder. Our pride and ego refuses to ask for help. But God did not design faith to be this way. God designed faith to be a communal pursuit. Yet if we are to truly be a part of the community of faith, if we are going to have real and deep relationships, then we must be honest and transparent, authentic and vulnerable, committed and compassionate.

Our passage today is just one verse. Again, it reads: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. Because the world is challenging, because the dark and evil are ever present, Paul knows that the believers need to be surrounded by Christian community. Paul begins by telling us to encourage one another. To be able to encourage one another, we need to really know how we each are doing. This is where honesty… comes into play. We must be willing to share our burdens with one another. We must also be willing to carry another’s burdens at times. We must be willing to tell others when our faith feels thin, allowing them to pour into us and to fill us up. Similarly, we must be willing to give of ourselves, to pour into another as we are able. Paul also urges us to build one another up. We do this by sharing our faith. This can be actual teaching or it can be living the faith so others can see what it looks like. Pastors and teachers and small group leaders and mentors are all a part of this process. We also build one another up by being present. We celebrate successes and achievements, we rejoice when a baby is born, we bring food and love and presence in times of hardship and suffering and loss.

The church in Thessalonica was living as a community. It was how God designed the church. As we ponder these thoughts today, may we each consider how we could encourage and build up the body of Christ this week.

Prayer: Living God, lead me by the power of the Holy Spirit to be an encourager and a builder. Help me to see the ways that I can help the community of faith to be like a family, like the heavenly fellowship that we all await. Bind us together in your love. Amen.


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Matthew 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Many people were coming out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. It was your typical Sunday morning crowd this day in Matthew 3. Many came to hear John’s call to repentance and to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, symbolizing being made clean. Some came to support those making a choice to seek a new life. They had walked the narrow road since coming to see John themselves. Some came because they thought they should. Their minds were on a million other things and their hearts were even further from faith in God. But this day, some came to see the show. They would gather later, to ridicule it within the safety of their little circle.

This day the usual preaching and baptizing comes to a screeching halt as John yells out, “You brood of vipers”! I bet you could have heard a pin drop. He asks them who warned them to “flee from the coming wrath”? He is calling them out for coming to the river and then returning to their unrepentant lives later that afternoon. The Pharisees and Sadducees do not even think about stepping into the river. Why would they?

This would be like our communion stewards going to someone who remained in the pew instead of coming forward and being told, “No thanks. I’m good – haven’t sinned since I took communion last month”. We may be taken aback by such a thought, but there will be folks who move with the crowd, who take communion and just go through the motions. They will move through the line, they will take the bread and the juice, without ever searching their hearts, without ever seeking to repent of their sins. They will go through the motions planning on returning to life as it was.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. Live lives that look like you have repented of your sins. Live lives that look like you love God and neighbor more than you love yourself. Don’t just appear to love God and neighbor. Really love them in concrete and practical ways. Love God and neighbor in ways that make them feel loved by you.

John proclaims that one day Jesus will “gather his wheat into the barn”. Live lives worthy of being gathered into Jesus’ barn. Produce fruit that builds the kingdom of God both in your heart and in the hearts of others.

Prayer: Lord, show me today how to love you more and to love others more. Convict me when I fall short of what you call me to. Guide me by your Holy Spirit to be your love in the world today. Amen.


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God My Savior

Reading: Psalm 25: 1-7

Verse 5: “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long”.

Today’s Psalm reminds us that we live in relationship with God. For our part, we trust God, we place our hope in God, we seek God’s love and forgiveness. For God’s part, God protects us, God teaches us, God guides us, God forgives us, and God loves us. One quickly notices that God does more than we do!

How we live in relationship with God reflects this as well. The psalmist writes “I lift my soul” and “in you I trust” and “show me” – indicating a reliance on or need for God. There is also a call for protection from enemies.

In verses 4 and 5 we find the heart of the relationship. These verses express our deep need for God’s instruction. They begin by asking God to show us how to love like God, to treat others as God does, to do as God does. They seek to know God’s paths – the roads to those in need, to those who are lonely, to those who are hurting or broken. Verse 5 sums it up well, asking God to “guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long”. All day long.

The psalmist recognizes God as his Savior. This becomes the focus of verses 6 and 7. The psalmist calls upon God to remember God’s “great love and mercy”. It is with and because of these that the psalmist asks God to “remember not” the sins and rebellious ways that he has practiced. These are also our cries to God. In our struggles with sin, we too beg God to “remember not”. This section closes by asking God to remember us in love, drawn from God’s goodness. This too is a good request for us to make: think of us in love today, O God, poured out from your goodness. Remember not our sins but love us in your great mercy. Thank you God.

Prayer: Lord, I join the psalmist today, asking you to lead and guide me, to show me your ways. May all I do and say honor you and bring you glory. And when I stumble, when I fail, please pour out your mercy and grace and love upon me. Thank you God my Savior. Amen.


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Salt and Light

Reading: Matthew 5: 13-20

As follower of Christ, we are called to be both salt and light. Both are essential roles in our Christian witness.  If we fail to be either, we are only partly carrying out our role.

Traditionally, salt served two purposes – salt preserved and salt flavored.  In a world without refrigeration, preserving food was an essential practice.  Food is crucial to life and is a prescious commodity, so preserving what you did not eat when you killed an animal would later sustain life.  In much the same way, our faith preserves us.  Through prayer, study, and worhsip we coat our hearts and minds with the things of God.  Then both in the day to day and in the trials, our faith preserves who we are at our core, keeping us grounded in Christ.

Sal is also a flavoring.  Many foods are bland or dull without salt.  Our faith is the salt that flavors our life.  It is also our faith that flavors the lives of those around us.  Who we are, what we do, the words we choose, how we treat others – all are flavored by our faith.  The ‘flavors’ our faith adds to all these things is love, truth, compassion, honesty, understanding…

Traditionally, light was held up to illuminate or show the way to things around the source of the light.  For example, a city was built upon a hilltop or a lamp was placed upon a stand.  The analogies of lighting the way or of casting aside the darkness are what Jesus refers to as He calls on us to be light.  Our faith should shine out from us, into the world.  Our faith should radiate out from within, bringing hope and promise and vision to a world living in darkness.  Our faith must not be private – hidden under a bowl – but public and out there for all to see.  It is through seeing our faith lived out that others see the true light and are guided towards a relationship with Jesus Christ.

We are called to be salt and light.  We each have opportunities each day to be these things to a world in need.  May we make the most of what God sends out way, seeking to bear witness to the faith we hold dear.


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The Two Are Connected

At our church we have been emphasizing the ideas of “love God, love neighbor” for the last couple months.  For both parts of this statement, I have come to two realizations.  First, “more” is or needs to be implied because we will never love God or neighbor enough.  Second, how we love God and love neighbor is best shown through how we treat them.

Romans 12 is full of ‘how’ statements about how we are to love neighbor.  Love must be sincere.  Honor others over self.  Live in harmony.  Bless those who curse you.  Give food and drink to the needy – especially those who are your ‘enemy’.  Overcome evil with good.  This list is not complete, of course, but it is a good start.

The things on this list are also part of how we ‘show’ that we love God.  Our works are born out of that love.  The two cannot be separated.  We also connect to God through worship, prayer, devotions, reading the Bible, fellowship.  Through these practices we come to love God more.  Through these we also come to understand how to love neighbor more.  The two are connected.

Scripture reference: Romans 12: 9-21