pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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You Have Heard…

Reading: Matthew 5:21-37

Verses 27 and 28: “You have heard that it was said… But I tell you…”

As we continue on in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives us some examples of how we are to be the “blessed are” and of how we are to be the “salt and light.” Using 4 topics found in the Law, Jesus explains how we as followers are to set the example for the world. In each of these scenarios Jesus raised the bar way up there. While we will never be perfect, that is the direction in which Jesus calls us today. The one who came “to fulfill the Law” challenges us to become ones who live righteously all the time.

In each of these four areas of life Jesus begins with some form of this statement: “You have heard that it was said… But I tell you…” Jesus summarizes the law itself and then he calls us above and beyond it. In each case, Jesus is driving down to the heart of the matter, to the root of the sun being addressed by the law. One of the Ten Commandments prohibits murder. Yes, but Jesus dives deeper. Don’t get angry and don’t speak a harsh word – these are the seeds of murder. The same goes for the law against adultery. The list that we allow to creep into our hearts form the seeds that sprout and grow into an adulterous relationship. So serious is Jesus that he commands us to poke an eye out or to cut off a hand (is it resting on a mousepad?) if these cause us to sin.

The topics of divorce and oaths are also covered today. In the first Jesus is seeking to elevate behavior and to protect women. To keep them from being victims of increasingly common frivolous divorces, Jesus seeks to reign in the reasons. He identifies “marital unfaithfulness” as the sole acceptable cause. This term, of course, can be defined many ways. But at a minimum it points us back to the marriage covenant. And on oaths, Jesus simply says, “Let your yes be yes, and your no, no.” Live with integrity. Be absolutely honest. Perhaps this one follows his words on divorce for a reason.

These four areas are a good start for considering how to be an example for the world. But four fall far short of covering all aspects of life together. Maybe one of these four applies to your life. Or maybe you are struggling with pride or greed or jealousy or anxiety or… What Old Testament law speaks to this? What would or did Jesus add as he says, “But I say…?”

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to such a high standard. You call us to be that light on the hill, raised up so all can see. Strengthen us to represent well. Amen.


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Blessed Are…

Reading: Psalm 119:1-8

Verse 2: “Blessed are those who keep God’s statutes and seek God with all their heart.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

Turning to the Psalms today we are connected to yesterday’s reading from Deuteronomy 30. In the opening stanza of the longest Psalm the writer focuses in on the blessing side of obeying God’s laws and of striving to live God’s way. There is a joy that can be felt as the psalmist considers living a life of faith.

In verses 2 we read, “Blessed are those who keep God’s statutes and seek God with all their heart.” There is a sense of security when we live within the parameters laid out by our good and holy and just God. Our pursuit of God, our seeking to know, understand, and live out all of God’s laws brings us to a place of praise. There is joy and peace and contentment when we are walking steadfastly with God.

The honesty of the Psalm is so refreshing. In verses 5 we read, “Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees.” I read these words with an emphasis on the “Oh” part. In these words we can feel a longing to always be faithful balanced against the reality that we are human and are therefore imperfect. There is value in looking within and realizing that we’ve fallen short. In recognizing that we fall short regularly we see our need to grow in our faith. And we often experience God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

The closing verses today is such an honest admission. It is part pledge and part humble request: “I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.” I’m going to really try. Please don’t give up on me. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I want to be faithful and true to you all the time! But I do fail, again and again. Encourage my resolve. Convict and redeem me quickly and often. Help me each day to walk as a child of the light. Amen.


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Blessing or Curse?

Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Verse 16: “For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.”

Photo credit: Einar Storsul

This week we turn to Deuteronomy 30. This book is part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. These five books establish the early covenants with God and they provide many laws that guide how ancient Israel was to live in covenant relationship with God. The covenant was and is built upon God’s unconditional love for the people of God. The many laws found in these books shepherded the Israelites and provided them a framework for living in right relationship with God and with one another. Covering virtually all aspects of life, these laws were broad and the code was immense.

This week’s passage from Deuteronomy 30 focuses not on the laws themselves, but on the outcome of keeping (or failing to keep) the laws. These words, usually attributed to Moses, were given to Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Our passage opens with these words: “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” This places faith in a very black and white setting. Continuing we read, “For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.” Moses calls Israel and he calls us to a daily, disciplined, faithful, steadfast walk with God. I believe to call oneself a Christian, one would expect no less.

The ‘reward’ of following the command? “You will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you.” And the ‘consequence’ if not obeying the command? “I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed.” Blessing or curse? Life or death? These words, this choice, will form the backbone of how the Israelites will understand and will interact with God. They will be the basis for how they will seek to live in the world and will guide their relationships with God and with one another.

These ancient words have meaning yet today. When we walk in God’s ways and love God, we experience life abundant here and we know that life eternal awaits. In all we do and say and think, may we seek the Lord with all that we are. And may our lives reflect a heart lived in covenant relationship with God and with each other.

Prayer: Lord God, your ways are good and you are holy and just. By the power of the Holy Spirit, lead me to walk in your will and ways and to honor you with all of my life. Amen.


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True Blessing

Reading: Psalm 112

Verse 1: “Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in God’s commands.”

Psalm 112, like much of the Old Testament, reflects the Jewish understanding of blessings and curses. Much of their experience can be seen in this concept. In the desert, when they worshipped the golden calf, many were punished. On the other hand, when they were faithful and marched around Jericho, the walls came down. In a general sense, they held that when one was faithful, God blessed them. When one was cursed it was because they had sinned. This was how the Israelites saw and understood the world. Even though it is clear in Job and in Jesus’ ministry that this understanding is simply not true, it still persists in our thinking even to this day.

In the opening verse of this Psalm we read, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in God’s commands.” First, let us define ‘fear.’ This is not ‘afraid of’ but is respect, reverence, awe. It is a holy and high view of God. Second, what is the blessing? On the surface level and in the ancient understanding, it is wealth and other forms of personal security. But there is more. We find it if we dig deeper. It is light in the darkness. It is found in being generous and in seeking justice. It is found when one trusts in God. These things bring true and great delight to our lives. These would be the treasures that Jesus described as those that do not rust and that thieves cannot steal.

When one considers that we are made in the image of God and that we are created to reflect God to the world, one quickly realizes that because money, status… do not matter at all to God, then they should matter very little to us. It is when we relinquish the drive to attain these earthly things that we find joy and contentment as a child of God. It is here, settling into our place in God’s family, that we really experience the life that God desires for us. May this life be true for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I know that having this or that brings no lasting peace, no true joy. It just breeds a desire for the next latest and greatest. God, rid me of all of these desires. Turn my focus wholly to your heart – to mercy, kindness, justice, love, forgiveness, humility, generosity, service. There, bring me great delight in you. Amen.


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Connected through Christ

Reading: 1st Corinthians 2:11-18

Verse 2: “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

As Paul continues to speak about wisdom he differentiates between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. Paul focuses in on the source of our wisdom. Some have received “the spirit of the world” – they think, make decisions, and act according to the wisdom or ways of the world. Pride, greed, lust, power, control – these things drive their lives. In contrast, some have received “the Spirit who is from God.” Those who proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior receive the gift of the Holy Spirit into their hearts. Peace, joy, love, hope, service, humility – these things drive their lives.

Those with the spirit of the world cannot understand the things and ways of God. They are not of the Spirit of God so God’s ways seem foolish. They cannot understand the ways of God or the ways that followers of Christ live. Those with the Holy Spirit are connected to God. The indwelling presence of God brings understanding around the will and ways of God. These can discern all that God offers because of the Spirit’s presence. As Paul writes, “We have the mind of Christ.”

Because we are in fact human – flesh and blood – we also understand the ways of the world and are, at times, drawn towards the things that the world values. The fleshy part of us can want control or power or wealth… at times. It is precisely in these moments that we need support, encouragement, and strength to resist the temptation that is pulling at us. Here the Spirit, the mind of Christ, whispers into our hearts. Here the community of faith steps us and speaks truth into our lives. Connected through Christ we find the power and the ability to live faithfully day by day in this world. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gifts of Spirit and community. Alone I would be a slave to the world. With these gifts I stand a chance. Please continue to make self less so that you can be more. Amen.


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The Power of God

Reading: 1st Corinthians 2:1-10

Verse 2: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

As chapter 2 begins, Paul hones in on how he shared the faith with those in Corinth. He is calling them back to the beginning, back so that they can remember how he spoke among them when they first came to believe in Jesus Christ. Paul made an intentional choice to not use human wisdom. Well-educated and a Pharisee by training, Paul knew the scriptures inside out. This choice was very wise. In a city that loved to hear the latest and greatest ideas, that loved to debate these – well, to try and do that with the gospel would lead a 1,000 different directions. Paul reminds them, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul stuck to the basics. He told of Christ’s life and sacrifice, of Christ’s teachings and of the love that led to a humble sacrifice on the cross.

When I have been able to share my faith it has never been through arguing someone into believing the creation story or the story of Noah or any other Bible story. When a message hits home with someone on a Sunday morning it is not because I defined this fancy word or because I explained the intricacies of a conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders. Wisdom may interest the brain but it does not move the heart. Paul knew this. The power in his message was the story of how Jesus changed his life. This painted a picture of how Jesus could change another’s life. This is the power in our testimony too.

Sharing our faith begins in our hearts. Love and faith reside here. It is also the home to the Holy Spirit. In our text, Paul identifies the Spirit as the revealer. The Holy Spirit will reveal to us the words to speak and the actions to take. The Holy Spirit will also reveal the power of God to those we share our faith with. This day and every day may we trust in the power of God and the Holy Spirit to change and transform lives, beginning with our own.

Prayer: Lord, work in and through me today. By the power of your Holy Spirit use me today for your glory and revelation to the world. Amen.


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Emptied To Be Filled

Reading: Isaiah 58:6-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?”

Photo credit: Daniel Hooper

Moving on from the ways that the Israelites “seem” to want to be close to and to know God, especially through fasting, God shifts gears, asking, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?” The answer to this question is wide and involved. The answers are a series of actions that reveal how we are to be salt and light in the world.

The expressions of light and love that God calls us to begin with fighting injustice and ending oppression. God next calls us to provide food and shelter and clothing to those in need. Lastly God calls (or maybe challenges) us to not turn away from our own “flesh and blood.” These actions align us with the will of God and they mirror the life and preaching of Jesus Christ. A fast or any other spiritual discipline that draws us closer to God should lead us to better reflect God out into the world. If it does not, then we are fooling ourselves and falling woefully short of who and what God created and wants us to be.

A true drawing close to God will naturally lead to an emptying of self. As we deepen our relationship with God it deepens our relationships with one another – friend and stranger alike. As we are emptied, God fills us with love and compassion and mercy and many other things that lead us into humble service. And as we fill ourselves with the will and way of God we experience God’s presence. From there may we choose to allow that presence to guide us out into the world, empowering others to experience the life-changing power of God. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may my worship of you not stop simply between me and you. May my worship be revealed in all aspects of my life. As I seek to yield more and more to your will and way, guide me to reveal who and what you are to a world in need. Amen.


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The Fast You Choose?

Reading: Isaiah 58:1-5

Verse 2: “They seem eager to know my ways… seem eager for God to come near them.”

The title to Isaiah 58 is “True Fasting” in my NIV Bible. This chapter begins with God telling Isaiah, “Shout it aloud, do not hold back... Declare to my people their rebellion… their sins.” It is not a good day for Israel. We too have these days once in a while. In the next verse God observes, “They seem eager to know my ways… seem eager for God to come near them.” To me, “seem” is the important word here. Israel is kinda pursuing God, but not really.

Evaluating their fasting God declares, “Yet on the day of your fasting you do as you please.” It is not a time set apart to honor God and to draw close to God. It’s almost become the opposite. The Israelites “exploit all your workers” and they are “striking each other with wicked fists.” We too can fall into this trap. We can claim we’re ‘Christian’ or we can do something ‘religious’ and neither bring God glory nor draw closer to God ourselves. We can seem to be faithful when we are anything but.

In verses 4 God tells the people, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect to be heard on high.” The walking of the walk must be consistent and steady. Going on, God asks a rhetorical question: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” There is no good answer to this question. So we must ask: reflecting on our religious practices, when or why might God ask us the same question?

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to play the game, to just show up in body, but not in mind, heart, and spirit, convict me quickly. Use the Holy Spirit to call my selfishness and sin out, to wake me up to my falsehood. Help me, O Lord, to be authentic to you in all of my ways. Amen.


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Applying the Way of God

Reading: Matthew 5:17-20

Verse 19: “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

After beginning the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes and an encouragement to be salt and light, Jesus connects back to the Hebrew scriptures. After painting a picture of what the community of faith should look and be like, Jesus goes back to the roots of the faith. In verses 17 he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” In and of themselves, these are good things. No, Jesus says, “I have come to fulfill them.” He has come to show what it means to really live out the way of God. Next week we will delve into some of what this means as Jesus says again and again, “But I tell you…

In the second half of today’s reading Jesus addresses the overall application of the Law and prophets. Focusing first on the goal, Jesus says, “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” These words connect to the call to be salt and light, to the calls to comfort and make peace, to the calls to hunger and thirst for God and for righteousness. Jesus applied the way of God to all of his life, to all of his relationships, to all that he said and did. Jesus lived a wholeness of faith and he calls his followers to do the same.

The contrast comes in verses 20, where Jesus informs us that our faith must surpass the surface level faith of the religious leaders of his day. They know the Law and prophets and they work hard at checking the boxes they’ve constructed. They just don’t allow the Law and prophets to affect how they live their lives. This is a call to let our light and love show in real and tangible ways, to let our faith impact and change lives, beginning with our own. May this be the faith that we live and breathe.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me today to live a faith that shows, that reveals you, that draws others into your presence. Amen.


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The Beloved Community

Reading: Matthew 5:1-12

Verses 1-2: “His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

Today we begin in the Beatitudes. These “blessed are” statements start off the longest teaching of Jesus recorded in the scriptures. While each statement certainly has meaning and value yet today, we will focus on the whole. Much of Jesus’ teaching pointed to a bigger picture. That is part of what he is doing with the Beatitudes. As a whole these statements paint a vision for the beloved community, for the church. A kingdom-living community of faith will reflect and live out these ideals.

Much of what Jesus said was counter-cultural and it remains so today. To be a peacemaker or to be humble, to be willing to face persecution, to openly desire God – these marks of the Christian are not the norm in the world. To comfort the mourning, to be pure in heart – these are also not the norms of our world. Yet we, as followers of Christ, are called to stand out from the world and to stand up against much of what the world values and pursues. Living out these ideals we will come to stand alongside those that the world devalues and marginalizes. In humble service we will minister to those close to the heart of God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me past self and closer to your heart. Open me to the folks and situations that break your heart. Use me to build up your vision for the world. Amen.