pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Through the Cross

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 14: “For he himself is our peace, who has… destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”.

Photo credit: Nathan McDine

As we turn to Ephesians this week Paul takes on a huge issue: walls that divide. Instead of division he invites those in the churches in and around Ephasus to find peace in Jesus Christ. Through the peace of Christ, walls can come down. There are two walls being addressed in today’s scripture. One is obvious – the wall between Jew and Gentile.

As Paul states in verse two, circumcision was the physical sign that separated Jew from Gentile. The act of circumcision was begun in Moses’ time and gave a physical sign that one was a Jew. It was a barrier of belonging. Underpinning this act was the Law. The Jewish Christians still lived under and followed the Law. They wanted the Gentile Christians to do the same. In essence, they wanted the Gentiles to first become Jews and then to become Christians. Paul counters this, saying, “For he himself is our peace, who has… destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”. He goes on to remind the Jewish believers that Jesus “abolished in his flesh the law”. Through his death Jesus destroyed the commands and regulations, uniting both Jew and Gentile through the cross.

Today our walls might not be between Jew and Gentile, but we still have plenty of walls. Just a few are rich-poor, Black-white, Democrat-Republican, American-immigrant. The peace of Christ desires to destroy all of these barriers and the hostility behind them too. Through the cross, Jesus desires to bring all people to himself. Jesus would bring down the barriers. So should we.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, fill me with your passion to draw all people to you. Strengthen me to bring down walls that divide and separate. May I begin in my own heart. Amen.


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Set Free!

Reading: John 8: 31-35

Verse 31: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”.

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

In this passage from John 8, Jesus is talking about the freedom we find in Christ. In our text today he is speaking to some Jews who has believed in him. Because of some hard teachings they have fallen away. In the opening verse he says to them, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”. To be a disciple one must follow the teachings and the example of the teacher or rabbi. In this case, it was Jesus.

The Jews were people of the Law. The words of Moses and future religious leaders guided all of life. By Jesus’ day the following of the Law – over 600 statutes – had become one of two things. For the select few who could adhere to the Law, it became a source of pride and exclusion. For all else it became a burden – something impossible to attain, something covered in guilt and shame. While Jesus did not come to abolish the Law (Matthew 5:17), he did come to reveal the heart of the Law: to love God and to love neighbor. These two commands were the heart of the Law. According to Jesus, all of the Law hung on these two (Matthew 22:40).

Trying to live under the Law, many were “slaves” to sin. They were always worried about breaking some law and they were ever being reminded to do and be better. This led to many being outside the family, outside the temple or synagogue, outside the community of faith. Jesus offered and still offers a better way. In and through the blood of Jesus we are set free. If we are in Christ sin no longer has the power to condemn. In faith we are forgiven and cleansed, restored back into family. The guilt and shame that kept one outside are no more. Jesus wants all people to understand this gift. Because of the blood of Jesus Christ we are set free. This is the truth that Jesus offers. It is our truth. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are the way and the truth and the life. Your love breaks every chain and ushers me into the family of God. In you is freedom; in you is hope. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Faithful Journey

Reading: Psalm 1

Verse 3: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields it fruit in season”.

Psalm 1 draws a clear distinction between those who walk in the way of the Lord and those who do not. The psalmist describes the faithful as blessed, prosperous, and enduring. The faithful do not join in with the mockers and sinners. By contrast the wicked will be like chaff – they will quickly perish. When presented in these terms, it is easy to identify which destiny one would prefer. Eternal life or be burned up in the fire? Easy choice, right?

Yes, the destination matters, but the journey, the day to day of living, is where the destination is really determined. Because of that our Psalm also speaks of the journey itself. The first area of focus is internal and personal. Blessed is the one who meditates on God’s laws. Blessed is the one who carves out time each day to better know and grow closer to God. The second component of our journey is external or outwardly focused: “He [or she] is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields it fruit in season”. A tree is an excellent choice. A tree has longevity and permanence. Our journey of faith should parallel this. We should drink of Christ’s nourishment steadily and regularly. We should walk faithfully, day after day, all of our lives. This is the “abide in Christ” idea that we have been thinking about lately. The external is revealed in how this daily abiding affects our daily living. It shows in the ways we bear fruit in season. Our “seasons” are the ministries and opportunities that God presents us with as we journey with Christ through this life.

The seasons vary: Sunday school teacher for some, mission team participant for others; serving at the local humane society for some, being on the Trustees or Finance team for others; playing or singing in the band or choir for some, mentoring a person on parole or one in recovery for others. This is but a tiny list of the ways that God can and will use us to “bear fruit” if we are simply willing.

Two questions to ponder: Where do or can you serve on God’s team? How are you rooted in the one who “watches over the way of the righteous”?

Prayer: Blessing God, day by day you seek to walk closely with each of your children. Day by day you bring new opportunities to stand faithfully, to work to build your kingdom one piece of fruit at a time. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit open my eyes and heart to walk and serve you faithfully all of my days. Amen.


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Healing and Wholeness

Reading: Luke 24: 44-48

Verse 47: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”.

In today’s passage Jesus begins by unpacking the overarching theme of the Bible. All of the Bible is about God’s love for all of creation. The centerpiece of God’s love is Jesus Christ, the one who fully revealed what God’s love looks like when truly lived out. Jesus reminds the disciples that he has already told them about his fingerprints in the Law, the prophets’ words, and in the Psalms. All that was written about the Messiah has been fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus “opened their minds” so that they could understand all that he was saying. What joy that must have brought the disciples!

There was now joy in the painful reality that they have just lived. “The Christ will suffer”, yes, but “he will rise from the dead on the third day”. The disciples are now part of living out this reality. The memories and experiences of the past three years are not just fond things that will make them smile as they recall them. They are empowering and encouraging memories that will go with the disciples as they take on the mission. In verse 47 Jesus speaks into the lives of the disciples, saying, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”. It will be preached. These and all disciples who follow Jesus will preach this good news. Jesus tells them, “You are witnesses of these things”. Yes, they were. The woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, the blind, lame, and mute, Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, Peter himself. They saw repentance and forgiveness lived out. They witnessed the power of Jesus Christ to heal and bring wholeness. Now Jesus is preparing the disciples to go forth to continue his work.

This is our charge as well – to bring healing and wholeness to a broken world. In our very lives we have experienced forgiveness and restoration. We have walked the road of repentance and have been made new creations in Christ. Jesus has transformed you and me. We too are witnesses to these things. So may we, like the disciples, go forth to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all nations, bringing healing and wholeness to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I am a sinner saved by grace. I have felt and experienced your love and the new life found in walking with you. I have seen and been touched by your healing power. Help me to witness to these things so that others may experience them too. Amen.


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Righteous

Reading: 1st John 3: 4-7

Verse 5: “You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin”.

Photo credit: Emily Crawford

John begins our passage for today reminding us that sin breaks the law and that sin is lawlessness. For the Jews of Jesus’ day, a life of faith entailed following the Law. Breaking a law required confession and the offering of a sacrifice to God. The Jewish faith had become very legalistic at this point. Keeping the law had in many ways superceded the practice of living in a relationship with God.

Jesus came in the flesh not to abolish the law but to reveal God’s love in and through the law. Almost everything Jesus taught and lived out came from the Old Testament. The ways of God were lived out in Jesus’ life through the lens of God’s love. There was no legalism in the ways and teachings of Jesus. The acts of confession and repentance and forgiveness had become boxes that check, parts of the law to keep, motions to go through. This had already been evident by the time of the last prophets, 400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Through Amos, God tells the people he won’t even look at their “offerings of well-fed animals” (5:22) any longer. God desires justice and righteousness instead, for peace to “roll down like a river”. This is the broken system that the sacrifice of Jesus replaced.

In our passage today we read, “You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin”. Jesus came to be the sacrifice, to pay the price once for all, to open the curtain that separates. As Jesus gave up his life, the temple curtain separating the people from God’s presence was torn in two. Through Jesus, God became accessible, more present. God’s love had been fully revealed. No longer was it necessary to go to the priest with an animal to sacrifice. Jesus gave direct access to God’s mercy and grace and forgiveness – not through a burnt offering but through a humble and repentant heart.

With Jesus Christ in our heart we are no longer slaves to sin. In John’s words, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning”. The Holy Spirit works within us, helping us to walk a more holy and devout life. Sin is not absent from our lives; in and with the Holy Spirit we recognize it and repent. Through the power and presence of the Spirit, Jesus within us, may we ever seek to be righteous “as he is righteous”.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gifts of your love: Jesus Christ my example and the Holy Spirit my guide. Thank you for loving me beyond my sin and then back into right relationship with you. Amen.


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Walking God’s Way

Reading: Psalm 19: 7-14

Verses 12-13: “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins”.

In today’s reading David begins by reminding us of the beauty of God’s laws. In verses seven through ten David praises God for his laws, statutes, precepts, commands, and ordinances. Taken as a whole and commonly known as the Law, these ways of God lead and guide the faithful. David rejoices in the law, naming it as perfect, trustworthy, pure, right, radiant, and sure. To illustrate how much he values the law, David notes that it is more precious than “much pure gold”. Reading Psalms like this draw us into studying and learning about God’s ways. For David, and for followers today, the law both “warns” and also yields “great reward”. Understanding and living God’s ways is the path to true life now and one day in eternity.

Walking God’s path is not always easy. In verses twelve and thirteen David writes, “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins”. At times we all suddenly think things in our hearts that we should not. These hidden sins feel private but are known by God. Even though committed in secret, we must confess them to God. We are also tempted on a regular basis. Satan is ever on the prowl, ever seeking to lead us to step off the path, ever enticing us to satisfy self. These are the sins that we have a choice in. The seed is planted and sometimes we allow it to grow and take root. When we allow this to continue to fruition, we commit a willful sin. These too must be confessed to the Lord.

Just as God’s ways are beautiful and life-giving, so too is his mercy and grace. Unlike the law, we are at times imperfect, impure, unjust, unrighteous. God forgives. God cleanses. God restores. As David prays, so too may we pray: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight”.

Prayer: God of mercy and love, guide me this day to walk in your ways, doing what is right and what is pleasing to you. Thank you for the love that always brings me back when I stumble. Amen.


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Grounded in Love

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse 2: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”.

Today’s passage centers on Moses sharing the commands that God gave him on Mount Sinai. These commands would form the backbone and would be the beginning of the Law – the commands, statutes, and rules that would govern the life of the Israelites. Moses first shares the introduction: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”. While we have not come out of slavery in the same sense that the Israelites just did, our relationship with Jesus does free us from many things.

The Ten Commandments begin to define the relationship between God and his people as well as the relationships between the people. The first four commands define our relationship with God and the last six define the relationships that we are to live in with one another. All ten are great guides for how to live with God and with each other. Yet they are just a start. The list would grow to 600+ laws and rules by the time Jesus Christ walked the earth. These laws shaped who and what the Israelites were, giving them an identity and a way to live in harmony.

Today we live in a world that also has a code of law that governs how our society rules itself, functions, and it also defines how we are to live with one another. Our civil law, in general, governs our political and societal practices and norms. While some civil laws interact or are influenced by moral or religious concerns, the way we live our day to day lives is still governed largely by our faith. As Christians we seek to live peaceably under the laws of our nation, state, and local community. We engage in the political process too – voting, working to add or amend laws to better society, and, sometimes, by serving. Yet the core of who and what we are still resides in our faith. As we live out our daily lives it is the “rule of life” that we have developed from our faith that truly guides us. For many believers this rule of life is modeled after Jesus’ life. Jesus modeled what living in right relationship with God and with others looked like when lived to the full. For Jesus, a right relationship was always grounded in love. Each of the Ten Commandments was grounded in love.

As you consider your rule of life – the way you act, the way you interact with and treat others, the way your faith is lived out, the way you love God throughout your day… – is it all grounded in love? In the spirit of Lent, consider this question deeply. What in your rule of life needs to change or die to better reflect Christ to the world? What needs to grow to better witness to the faith you profess?

Prayer: Lord, my mind is drawn to search and examine the habits and practices and things in me that define how I live each day. Help me to truly see as you would see, dying to that within that works to separate me from you or others. May the Spirit also work within me to grow those things that help me to better love you and others. Amen.


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Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 13-25

Verse 25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

What does God expect or require of you? What did Jesus expect of his disciples and of those that would follow him? If we were to make a list to answer these questions, would the list be a collection of things to do or would it detail how to live our lives? Paul is answering these questions for the church in Rome in today’s passage.

The church in Rome was falling into the trap that Paul has been caught in for most of his life. Faith was a form of legalism – of checking boxes and staying within the lines defined by the Law. Faith was not a way of life. To help them understand this Paul goes back to Abraham, the father of Israel, the patriarch of all patriarchs in the Jewish faith. In our passage today Paul points out that God credited Abraham as righteous because of his faith in God. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his trust and obedience to God’s direction. The Law was not even in existence yet. Entering into this right relationship with God through faith alone made Abraham and his descendants heirs of God’s promises. For Paul, all who believe in Jesus fall into that line of descendants. Belief is what gets one in that line, not following any set of rules or lists that we can make up.

Paul defines belief in Jesus as the only action necessary to be “credited” as righteous – being right with God. He wants to be clear that righteousness does not come from following the Law or any other set of rules, but from faith in Jesus Christ. In verse 25 Paul reminds those in the church in Rome and all who follow Jesus why belief in him is essential: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. In dying for our sins, Jesus removed the weight of the Law – that sacrifice for this sin, this sacrifice for that sin… – and he paid the price through his blood. A final sin sacrifice was offered by one for all. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are made righteous before God. In being raised from the dead, Jesus defeated death, opening the way for us to receive eternal life. Both are gifts, given to us without price, without any requirement except believing that Jesus did this for each of us. These is no law or rules that we can follow to receive or earn these gifts. They come through faith alone. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, I am so grateful for these gifts of love – born to the cross and into the grave for me. You stood in my place and took the punishment for me. And you did not stop there. You walked out of the grave, breaking those chains too. Thank you for the gifts of love that make it possible to experience joyful and abundant life now and to enter eternal life one day through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.


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God’s Gifts

Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20

Verse 12: “Extol the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion”.

Today’s Psalm reading is all about praising God for the gifts that he gives to his children. In the year we’ve had collectively, it is necessary to stop and to thank God for his gifts to us, even in 2020.

The first gift that we are to extol and praise God is for how he strengthens us and for how he gives us peace. God’s watch over us does not mean life will be free of pain or worry. We can face the sufferings and struggles of life with God’s presence, though. With God we have a companion for the journey, one to lean on at times, one to carry us in times when we cannot walk on our own.

The second gift to us that we are to extol and praise God for is our sustenance – the “finest wheat” and a whole variety of other foods and drinks. The third gift is the earth and ecosystem that God designed. The seasons along with their accompanying snow, hail, and rains… are all part of God sustaining us.

The last gift is his word. In the Jewish mindset this is the written word, the Torah. The law of Moses guides all of life. The holy scriptures are how they know God. This all is true for Christians as well. But we also have Jesus, the fuller revelation of God to humanity. Just as the Jews were God’s chosen people – blessed like “no other nation” – Christians are also blessed and set apart from the world. We are “in the world but not of it”. Our true home is in heaven with the Lord.

As we turn the page from 2020 and step forward into 2021, may we take a moment to extol and praise God for his presence, for his provision, and for his Son whom he shares with us every day. Praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord, I thank and praise you for your presence in my life – in the highs, in the lows, and in everything in between. You are always there. I thank you for the many ways that you provide and care for me and my family. You are so loving and generous. And I thank you most of all for the gift of your living word, Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Freed

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verses 4-5: “When the time had fully come, God sent his son… to redeem those under the law”.

What a passage we have today! In just four verses, Paul packs some great theological truths. In summary: at just the right time God sent Jesus to redeem us from the law and then sent the Spirit to lead us to live as children of God, destinying us for eternal life. It is quite the summary of the good news.

As we draw nearer to Christmas Eve it is a good reminder that Jesus came at just the right time. When God’s time to send the son arrived, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. While the example that Jesus set concerning how to live out God’s love is important, the main purpose of Jesus’ time on earth was to redeem us, to make heaven our destiny. This is both a present and a future realityy. Let me say that again: heaven is both a present and a future reality. While we await eternity in the Lord’s presence we live to build his kingdom here on earth.

Paul’s emphasis in the letter to the Galatians is the freeing power of Jesus Christ in this life. In Christ we are made into new creations, freed from “the law”. The church in Galatia was struggling with the application of the Jewish law, the Torah. The Christians who had been Jews believed the new Christians should first follow the laws of Judaism. For example, they wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised and to follow the dietary and purification laws. The new believers just wanted to follow Jesus. This was causing division and strife in the church. Paul wants to end this reliance on the old laws of the Jewish faith. For Paul, being created new in Christ Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, believers no longer fall under the old laws.

Even though we do not live under the Jewish law and even though we are Spirit-filled new creations in Christ, we still live with division and strife. We still need redeemed. Although Christ died to free us from the laws of sin and death, we all still wrestle with sin in our lives and many of us are anxious and fear death.

Our journey of faith is one of redemption after redemption. Even though I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and even though I am led by the Spirit, my old self is alive and well within me. My pride and ego, my judgmental attitude, my driven personality all can rise up and lead me to sin. My old self can ignore the Holy Spirit quite easily at times. Yet, thanks be to God, I am “no longer a slave”. Redemption, forgiveness, grace, and mercy are always ready to make me new again. I am a child of God. I am loved. I am an heir to eternal life in Christ. You are too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of life, thank you for your love that is always greater than any and all of my sin. Continue to lead and guide me and to better atune me to the voice and the way of the Holy Spirit. Amen.