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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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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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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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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Salt and Light

Reading: Matthew 5:13-16

Verse 16: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

After casting a vision for what the community of faith should look and act like in the Beatitudes, Jesus continues in this week’s text, exploring what this looks like when lived out. He uses two analogies today to describe the Christian life lived out in the world: salt and light. By practicing or living out the nine “blessed are” statements of verses 1-12, a follower of Christ will be salt and light to others.

Jesus’ first encourages us today to be salt. Salt served two primary functions in Jesus’ day. One was to preserve food. With this idea, Jesus is encouraging us to preserve our faith and to help others to persevere in their faith. Jesus asks the question of what happens when we lose our faith. We become useless to the kingdom of God. Salt was also used to enhance flavor. Without faith our lives become bland. With faith we are to live in ways that enhance other people’s lives. Reflecting for a moment, one can see how living out many of the Beatitudes would enhance the lives of those we encounter.

Jesus then encourages us to be light. He’s not talking about being a little nightlight over in the corner. No, Jesus says to place our light up on a stand so that all can see it. This is a call to stand out from the world, to be a light that shines into the darkness of this world. Jesus encourages us, saying, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” We note that this is not a light that we shine upon ourselves. It is the light of Christ radiating out from within us, revealing his love and grace, his care and provision, through the acts of our hands and feet, through the ministry of our words and prayers.

As we seek to live as salt and light in the world, may all we meet encounter God’s love, growing to praise God almighty.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me today Lord, guiding me to live and be in the world in a way that enhances other people’s lives. Show me the way, Lord, to illuminate people’s paths, easing their burdens and sharing the joy of knowing you as Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Rejoice and Be Glad

Reading: Matthew 5:10-12

Verse 11: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

The closing verses of the Beatitudes bring home the reality that the practice of our faith can bring challenge and trial to our life. The demands that Christ places upon us to be love and grace and mercy lived out in the world – these practices will create tension and even angry responses at times. When our faith leads us to take a stand against an injustice or oppression or other evil actions of the world, the one(s) causing these evils will react against our presence and the words of truth that we speak. The reaction often takes the form of some type of persecution.

In verses 10 and 11 Jesus tells us “blessed are” you when we are persecuted. He unpacks what we may experience in verses 11: when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” When we shine the light of truth into the darkness of the world, that darkness tries to snuff out the light. Darkness cannot stand being in the light. Darkness will try anything to avoid being in that light. Jesus tells us to “rejoice and be glad” when the darkness strikes against us. He can say this because he knows the same truth that we do: “great is your reward in heaven.” Living faithfully may we rejoice in this promise always.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the strength and courage to live faithfully at all times, especially in those situations that may bring challenge and hardship. I know you are with me at all times – good, bad, and in between. Use me to stand and speak for those without the power or ability to do so for themselves. Amen.


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The Power to Transform

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:10-18

Verse 17: “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”

Yesterday we considered Paul’s call to unity in the church. We recognized the costs of bickering and infighting. These behaviors diminish the witness of the church and its members. Paul resisted the temptation to enter the fray, to claim his place. He certainly could have. He had that Damascus road encounter with the risen Christ. He had a deep knowledge of the Jewish faith – he was a Pharisee. Paul had built the church in Corinth from the ground up. His name was known and his letters were read throughout the Christian world. Paul could’ve claimed a place of power and authority for himself.

Many in Paul’s day and many in our day enjoy the limelight. In Paul’s day both rabbis and philosophers sought to gain large groups of followers. Today we ask one another how many friends we have on Facebook or how many followers we have on Twitter… In Paul’s day the powerful attached their names to building projects and social actions. Today we plaster names on everything from buildings to bowl games. These are but two examples of ways people seek recognition and to build popularity and status.

Stepping outside of the popularity contest, Paul states, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Yes, baptism was important. It was an outward sign of an inward change. But the inward change came through knowing the good news of Jesus Christ. It was Christ’s life and example, magnified on the cross, that has the power to change and transform lives. Paul knew this with all of his heart. He had experienced it himself and poured all of himself into helping others to experience the power of Jesus Christ. May we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, Christ, through the cross, changed everything. In one radical act of obedience Jesus reset the power imbalance. No longer would darkness reign. Light and love came into the world and gave all for our sake. Use me this day and every day to help people know the one who changed my life. Amen.


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The Light!

Readings: Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-17

Verse 16: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” (Matthew 4)

Our passages today are connected. In Isaiah 9 we read a prophecy about a day to come when one who is light walks among the Gentiles. At the time of this writing it would have been a radical thing to consider. It was maybe even a bit scandalous. God, our God, stepping outside this tightly constructed circle drawn securely around Israel? How could that ever be?! God is the God of Israel. Those Gentiles are clearly outside of God’s love, mercy, light…

Fast forward several hundred years and Jesus, God in the flesh, moves into the land of the Gentiles. Doing so, Jesus begins to fulfill these words of Isaiah: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” Darkness was and continues to be an absence of God’s presence. Light was and is God’s presence. Coming as the light that illuminates the darkness, Jesus proclaims: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Repent, turn away from the darkness within. Turn and walk in the light as the Christ has come. The light is here.

Turning back to Isaiah 4, we see the result of walking in the light, of walking with Jesus Christ. There is a joy and a rejoicing that comes from a life lived in Christ. There is a freedom from the darkness: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them.” The light of Christ in our hearts wards off the darkness. And even when we stumble and stray into the darkness now and again, the light always shines, drawing us back even as it drives away the darkness. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, let your light shine into my life, showing me the way to go, lighting the path that you would have me walk. When temptation creeps in, blast it with your light. O light of the world, be with me always. Amen.


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What Is Right and True

Reading: Psalm 27:1, 4-9

Verse 1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?”

Photo credit: Darold Pinnock

This week’s Psalm begins with words of faith and trust in God. As you read these words, David’s faith oozes out, his trust shouts aloud. Moving into verse 4 we see the source of his faith and trust. Here David asks just one thing – to dwell in God’s presence all of his days. Even though an enemy may attack, even though an army may besiege him, David trusts that God will keep him safe and that God will “set me high upon a rock.”

In this life we will face enemies and attacks. Last night at youth group we talked about doing the right thing. It is a moment when we sometimes falter, fearing what may happen to us, worrying about what others may say or think about us. Fear of the potential trial or of the cost of doing what we know is right and just can paralyze us. In David’s words we are reminded today that God is with us and that God has been and always will be both our helper and our defender.

Today we remember and celebrate one who lived these words and truths out. Today we remember and celebrate a pastor who chose to stand for justice and equality. Fear could have easily won the day many times. The threats and violence would’ve silenced many people’s voices. Day by day, Martin Luther King, Jr., clung to his light and salvation, to his stronghold, to the one rock upon which he stood. As his fellow saints who walk the same path of faith, may we too choose love instead of hate, trust instead of fear, and hope instead of defeat. God is still at work for the good in all things. In faith and trust may we stand for what is right and just.

Prayer: Lord God, what examples of faith. From the one who sought you with all of his heart to the one who trusted you with his very life, may we be encouraged and inspired. As we seek to trust in you, O God, and as we strive to be love to and for all people, deepen our faith in you, our rock and our light. Amen.


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God Has Chosen You

Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7

Verse 3: “You are my servant… in whom I will display my splendor.”

The words of Isaiah that we read this week speak to a people in utter defeat. Jerusalem lies in ruins, many have died, and most of the rest of Israel has been driven into exile. Our passage begins with a call to the “distant nations,” to those feeling isolated and alone. It is a call to remember that Israel was God’s “before I was born.” It is a reminder that they are still the people of God, even in the midst of the current darkness.

As the current people of God we too will have times when all feels like it lies in ruins, when it seems pretty dark. We will lose a job or a loved one. We will suffer illness or persecution. We will sin and separate ourselves from God and one another. Our church or our denomination will experience a tearing apart. There is no shortage of the hardships and trials that can and will befall us.

Into Israel’s darkness God promised a return, a redemption, a rescue story. God will be their reward and their strength. God will gather them back from exile. God promises, “You are my servant… in whom I will display my splendor.” This world and its troubles – they are temporary. God is not. On the other side of this darkness – whatever it is – there is light and hope and salvation for Israel and for you and for me. God is faithful and true. “The Holy One of Israel… has chosen you.”

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder that you are every bit as present in the darkness as you are in the light. You have chosen me, you have chosen all of us to be blessed as we walk in the light of your love. Remind us again and again of this truth as we seek to walk as a light to the Gentiles of our day. Amen.