pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Cry Out, Trust, Act

Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4

Verse 3: “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?”

Photo credit: Mukund Nair

We begin the week with the prophet Habakkuk. He wrote in about 600 BC, in the years just after the Babylonians destroyed Israel and took many away into exile. The leaders of Israel had wandered from God, taking the people with them. Living in sin and ignoring God’s laws had a devastating impact. It led to a time of great suffering – both for those led away and for the remnant left behind. Most of the people were adrift and disconnected from God. It is into this situation that Habakkuk asks God, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” How long God must I ask for help turning these lost souls back to you? This is a great question we too ask when we look at our world today.

In verse 3 the prophet laments, asking, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” This is an extension of the ‘how long?’ question. Habakkuk asks God how long must they suffer. How long must we pay the price for our sin? These are questions that reveal deep faith in God. They are in the situation they are in because God is just. The prophet questions and cries out as a witness to his faith. Habakkuk seeks God because he believes that only God can move the people from faithless to faithful. The prophet knows that God alone has the power to save them.

As we look at our world today we can identify areas of injustice and of suffering. We too can cry out to God, asking ‘how long?’ As we cry out to God, may we, like Habakkuk, do so trusting that God is mighty and powerful and just. In faith may we trust in God’s good purposes. And, like the prophet, may we too come to see that God has a role for us to play in bringing healing and wholeness to the pain and brokenness of our world.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to see the places in need of your love and healing. Fill my heart with compassion and empathy. And then move me to action, to a part to play in helping others to experience your power to save and to restore and to redeem. Amen.


Leave a comment

All That We Are

Reading: Luke 10:25-27

Verse 27: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”

This week’s gospel text is one of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings: the parable of the good Samaritan. The passage begins with an “expert in the Law” standing up to “test” Jesus. This man asks Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. Perhaps to test the genuineness of the expert, Jesus responds with a question seeking the law expert’s interpretation. To be considered an “expert” this well educated man would’ve known the 600+ laws inside-out.

The expert gives a two-part answer. The first part is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” The man mostly quotes from Deuteronomy 6 but he adds a part to the original scripture. It is interesting to me that an expert in the Law would add something to the word of God. To add “and with all your mind” demonstrates a fuller awareness of belonging to God. It might also indicate a struggle that he has discovered. It is one that I and maybe you wrestle with. As an expert in the Law he would’ve known it inside-out. But knowing it and living it are two very different things. Reading about Jesus and living like Jesus are two radically different things for you and for me. Adding the mind to what we give to God is an important step of surrender.

In closing today, I invite us to consider what it looks like to love God with all of our heart? With all of our soul? With all of our strength? With all of our mind? When taken as a whole, it really involves loving God with all that we are. It involves surrendering the relational, spiritual, physical, and intellectual parts of our being to God. The rest of the parable gives us a great example of what this kind of surrender looks like. Join me tomorrow!

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes this full surrender is not easy. Sometimes I like to decide things for myself. Sometimes I want to be angry and seek revenge. Sometimes I want to be selfish or lazy. Help me, O God, to more fully surrender my whole being to your will and ways. Amen.


Leave a comment

Really That Simple

Reading: Galatians 5:1 and 13-21

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Paul begins our passage today with a word of encouragement: “Christ has set us free. Stand firm.” No longer living under the Law, Paul has found freedom in Christ. Yes, he still wrestles with sin, as we all do, but he has been freed from the guilt and shame. No longer remaining stuck there, Paul has been freed to follow Jesus Christ and to live captive to Christ. No longer hindered by that old “yoke of slavery” to the Law, Paul stands firm in his faith in Jesus Christ and invites us to join him.

The freedom Paul finds is not a “you can do anything you want” freedom but a freedom lived within the bounds of Christ’s words and example. Paul identifies the filter for determining this line in verse 14. Here he reminds us: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Is he speaking of the old Jewish Law or of the new law of Jesus Christ? Or is it both? I believe it is both. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5). He fulfilled it by being God’s love lived out in the world. Doing so, Jesus was led by God or the Spirit, as Paul refers to in verses 16-18. Led by the Spirit, Christ was not captive to the desires of the sinful nature. We too can claim this Holy Spirit power and the freedom it brings.

In verse 19-21 Paul gives quite the list of “acts of the sinful nature.” Even though quite the list, it is quite incomplete. That maybe being a given, the sins on Paul’s list and on any other list we can generate come down to following the single command given in verse 14. If we truly love our neighbor more than self, we will not sin against them or against God. It’s really that simple: love unconditionally and fully.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see with your eyes of love. This is where so many of my relationships and my interactions begin, with what I see. So let me see all as you see them, as a beloved child of God. Then lead me to love them – all of them – in a way that they come to better know your love. Amen.


Leave a comment

Living Under Christ

Reading: Galatians 3:23-25

Verse 23: “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed.”

As we join Paul in Galatians 3 he is guiding people to transition from living under the Law to living under Christ. This is a transition almost all believers make (or should make). This is a very hard transition – harder the longer one lives under the Law. Paul knows this from his own experience. He described himself as a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” The Pharisees were known to keep the Law and to look down harshly on those who failed to keep all of the Law. These folks remain in many of our churches. Yet this All-Star Pharisee was changed and can look back on those days and can write, “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed.” Prisoners… Locked up… No one could ever keep all 600+ laws all the time. One was always guilty of something.

In the next verses Paul writes of how one is freed from prison. Freedom comes through faith in Christ. Through faith in Christ as Lord and Savior we are justified – made right before God. Forgiven in and through the blood of Jesus, we are no longer held captive to our sin or to its associates, guilt and shame. In Christ we are forgiven. No longer under the Law, we fall under Christ’s leadership and example, allowing Jesus to be our “supervisor”, our lead and guide.

As immature Christians we can struggle with this transition. I can remember the struggles I had. Starting to grow out of my parent’s faith and into a faith I could claim for myself, I saw faith as a list of do’s and don’ts. A faith that checks off this box and avoids checking off that box – that is not uncommon. It is present in our churches today. Long time, every Sunday attenders sit in their place for an hour and walk out the door unchanged, unchallenged, uninspired. They came in intending to check that box off the to-do list. Walked through the door and checked off that box.

A mature faith is so much more. A mature faith lives the way of Jesus Christ, not the way of the Law. A mature faith seeks to be changed, transformed more and more into the image of Christ day by day. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, strip away my people-pleasing nature and replace it with a Jesus-pleasing desire. Lead me to a place of full surrender to your will and your ways, O God. May you truly be my audience of one. Amen.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.