pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Audience of 1

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 5: “Everything they do is done for me to see”.

Yesterday we looked at the warning to do as the scribes and Pharisees teach, not as they do. There is a disconnect between what they preach to the people and how they themselves are living their lives. The middle section in our reading today begins with verse five. Here we read, “Everything they do is done for me to see”. This can be a trap we too fall into. Being human, we like recognition. When we do something “good” and no one notices, we feel hurt or let down or we can even question why we did it. Some of the time, we can also be like these religious leaders, waiting for an audience before we do our good deed, insuring publicity or recognition for our actions.

The scribes and Pharisees loved to be seen and recognized. It reinforced both their authority and their ego. They wore large phylacteries and long tassels – two symbols of their deep connection to God. Today, one may give a large donation, thinking the size of the gift will reflect the depth of their faith for others. Some will want it announced in church or published in the bulletin or will want a plaque placed on the item so that all will know of their good and generous gift. The scribes and Pharisees wanted the best seats or places at events or in worship. This prime real estate is where others will notice they are there. In a similar way, they loved to be called ‘rabbi’ – a title that was revered, respected, honored. It pumped up the ego to see all bow a bit as the people acknowledged the religious leaders. The title separated them from the rest of society. It also insulated them from those outside of their religious circles.

Today, some still like to have a title connected to their name – doctor, professor, reverend, pastor, officer… Titles convey power and authority. These titles can be used to gain admittance and to avoid consequences. It is a good thing, for example, when the pastor title gains entry to pray with a dying person during these pandemic restrictions. Yet it would be a bad thing, for example, to pull out my pastor ID card first, instead of my driver’s license, if pulled over for speeding. Titles can be abused, they can separate, they can be used to manipulate, they can be used for personal gain. Jesus is warning us against such things, to check our egos, and to be aware of our motives and intentions.

When we practice our faith, when we offer acts of kindness, may it always be for an audience of one – for the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord, when I am tempted to shine the light on me, remind me of the call to humble service. When I want others to notice or see what I’m doing, check my pride and remind me of humble service. When I’m drawn to playing the pastor card, remind me of the call to humble service. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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The Image of…

Reading: Matthew 22: 19-21

Verse 21: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”.

Today’s short passage reminds me of the saying, ‘In the world but not of the world’. As Christians we know that this place is not our home. Yet we also clearly see in Jesus’ example and teaching that our task as disciples is to engage the world – especially the spaces and places where God’s love can bring healing and wholeness and community. Jesus sought to bring people into the circle of God’s love. As he departed this world he gave us instructions to do the same as we seek to make disciples of all people.

In the first half of today’s key verse, Jesus calls us to respect our earthly authorities. It does not matter if they are oppressive and insure that peace is kept via the threat of violence. It does not matter that they worship different gods. It doesn’t even matter that it will be Romans who whip him and drive nails through his hands and feet. The Romans are in authority. God has allowed them that role for a season. Therefore, “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. This same concept applies today. None of us totally agrees with our bosses or teachers or leaders, but we are called upon to respect them, to pray for them, to honor them – whether or not they totally align with our values and beliefs.

Hard as this may be at times, the second half of this verse is even more challenging to truly live out. [“Give unto] God what is God’s”. Well, it all belongs to God. Without God we would not draw breath or inhabit these bodies. Without God we would not know true peace, joy, hope, love, comfort, contentment, grace, mercy… All that we have and all that we are belongs to God. This is what Jesus Christ is calling us to give – our all. Yes, this is a struggle. I fail every day in many ways. Sometimes it is withholding something small that I hope God doesn’t notice, sometimes my rebellion is more out in the open. What then? What then? The Holy Spirit intercedes. Sometimes quietly, sometimes with more conviction than I think I can bear at the time. The Holy Spirit reminds me of who I am and of whose I am. Yes, I am created in the image of God, just as you are. But the mirror works both ways. God sees in us the image of his son. God sees in us one of his children. In endless love, God calls us back into right relationship, back into our place in the family. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, it is good to be reminded that I am a beloved child of yours. It is a blessing to be a part of your family, where love reigns over all, covers over all, sustains all. Help me to reflect and share that love each day as I seek to make you known. Amen.


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Sincere, Devoted, Selfless

Reading: Romans 12: 9-21

Verse 10: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves”.

The section for today is titled “Love” in my Bible. If I had to choose just one word to describe or define God or Jesus, love would be the word. Love guides all that the divine does and says. In today’s passage, Paul encourages us to live the same way.

“Love” is a word that has many applications and even more degrees at the human level. Love, like most words, can be tossed around and can be easily manipulated. It can be twisted for our own purposes. These types of uses fall under the “hate what is evil” part of verse nine. Paul begins today by slicing through all of this by writing “love must be sincere”. Other translations use pure or genuine. It is a calling to love as God and as Jesus love. As Paul urges us to “cling to what is good”, I am reminded of the WWJD slogan. Well, Jesus would love.

In verse ten Paul writes, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves”. The first part of this verse mainly covers agape or brotherly love but the same ideas are essential with all forms of love. Being devoted means commitment and investment in the relationship. It means always honoring and respecting the other person. This approach naturally leads into the second part of this verse. Genuine or sincere love makes the intentional and purposeful choice to place the other person’s needs and wants ahead of our own. This is a call to selfless love. Often it is a sacrificial love. Here too we are reminded of the love that Jesus Christ modeled throughout his ministry and especially on the cross. There he put the needs of the entire world before his own wants as he conceded “not my will but your will be done” to God in the garden.

As we consider what sincere, devoted, selfless love looks like today, may we be thankful for Christ and for others who have loved and who love us this way. And may we strive to love in this model ourselves. May it be so with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, to have such a love is admittedly not always easy. The easier path is selfish and inwardly focused. Open my heart to love as you love. Help me to deny self and to even die to those parts of myself. Mold me and shape me to love as you first loved me. Amen.


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Loving Deeply

Reading: 1st Peter 1: 17-23

Verse 23: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God”.

Today’s reading distinguishes between perishable and imperishable, between temporary and eternal, between earthly and heavenly. Peter reminds us that we were bought or redeemed with the “precious blood of Jesus”. Jesus comes from and belongs to the imperishable. The “lamb without defect” was chosen to be the final sacrifice “before the creation of the world”. It is through Christ Jesus that we place our hope and trust in God.

Peter opens our passage for today by encouraging us to “live your lives as strangers in reverent fear”. For as long as Christ and then Christians have walked the earth, we have been “strangers”. Even in the land that God promised and then gave to his children, the Christian faith has been rejected and fought and often persecuted. It is a faith that lives and exists in the world – in the perishable and temporary and earthly – but it is not of this world. Hence, we are strangers. That is a good thing. Just as Jesus did in his day, so too are we called to stand out from the world and its desires and pursuits. Peter also calls us to live in “reverent fear”. This is not the same as having a fear of spiders or of heights. It is a deep respect, a profound honoring, an obedient heart towards and with God. A reverent fear recognizes that God is holy and just and altogether righteous and good.

Peter next reminds us that we are purified when we live according to God’s ways. When we do so, the chief manifestation is in how we “love one another deeply”. Even the Romans of Peter’s day and throughout the days of the early church took note of how deeply the Christians loved one another and those in need around them. We too are called to be known in this way. We can love this way because of who we are and because of whose we are. In verse 23 we read, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God”. We are new creations in Christ – imperishable, eternal, heavenly. May we live accordingly, loving deeply as we seek to be the “living and enduring word” as the hands and feet of Christ in our world.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for a love for me that began before the creation of the world. Thank you for your eternal and unchanging love for me and for all of your children. Grant that I may share that love with others today. Amen.


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Seek

Reading: John 3: 1-17

Verse 3: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”.

In our passage today Nicodemus is a seeker. He feels the pull of Jesus Christ on his heart. He senses that following this rabbi will change his life. And like most seekers, there is a thing or two that inhibits his seeking. The fact that Nicodemus comes at night indicates a struggle many have: he does not want to give up his position or status in life. Nicodemus occupies a place in Jewish society that affords the utmost respect. He has power and influence. To choose to follow Jesus would certainly cost him all of this. Today the idea of dying to self and asking Jesus to be Lord of our life calls us to make the same decisions.

Nicodemus wants to understand Jesus. He wants to know more, to go deeper. He has seen and/or heard enough to draw him in. He is curious. Nicodemus is able to go directly to the source. But even that is confusing for him. This can inhibit continued pursuit. Effort is required to persevere. Today many people turn to the Bible for understanding. The living word functions much like Jesus did. As one reads more and more the passages come to life and gain deeper meaning. A different story can shed light on another difficult passage, building on one’s understanding.

The longer into the night that Nicodemus and Jesus talked, the better Nicodemus’ understanding will become. The same is true for seekers who spend time reading and studying the Bible. The same is true for those a little further along on their journey. The more we read and study, the better we understand the story and message of the Bible. Like Nicodemus, may we invest in our relationship with Jesus. He will lead and guide us as we seek him and continue to mature in our faith. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me in more and more each day. Help me to dive down deep, growing closer to you day by day. Amen.


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Redemption

Reading: Ruth 3: 1-5

Verse 1: “My daughter, should I not try and find a home for you, where you will be provided for”?

Our passage today opens with Naomi expressing concern for Ruth. Naomi says to Ruth, “My daughter, should I not try and find a home for you, where you will be provided for”? Ruth has shown deep dedication to Naomi, leaving her own land to follow Naomi home to Israel so that she can care for and provide for her. Both are widows when they arrive in Israel. Naomi realizes that Ruth is young enough to remarry and knows that this would bring security to her future. Based upon her past actions and loyalty, Naomi probably felt assured that Ruth would continue to care for her.

Boaz, the man Naomi identifies as a good potential husband, is family. There is family there with closer ties, but Boaz has demonstrated kindness and good character towards Ruth already. They first met when Ruth was gleaning in his fields along with his servant girls. He shows her favor and is familiar with her story. Naomi identifies Boaz as a “kinsman redeemer” – a term for a relative who rescues a family member from trouble or a difficult situation. His invitation to continue to work in his fields and the instructions to his men to leave extra stalks for her indicate that he is stepping into this role.

Naomi suggests that Ruth go to and lie down at Boaz’s feet. She lies in the this place as a sign of respect. Servants would often sleep at the feet of their master. Uncovering his feet was also cultural and symbolic. In doing so, Ruth let Boaz know that she was there and she was using the customs of the day to nonverbally ask him to share his coverings with her. Culturally this was a right that the servants had. Symbolically she was asking him to provide for her. Boaz would go on to redeem her as his wife.

In our passage Ruth continues to show love for Naomi through her obedience. She also trusted that God would continue to guide and bless her. Ruth’s faithfulness to both God and her family are models that we can follow. In doing so, she finds redemption. She is restored to new life. This day, may we take the opportunities that God provides to offer love and care to the other, opening their eyes to the redemption that God offers to all.

Lord, may Ruth’s model of love and care be my way of living too. Help me to open others eyes to the redemption that you offer. Amen.


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What a Savior!

Reading: Mark 10: 17-22

Verse 20: “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy”.

In our passage we begin with the young man. He runs up to Jesus and falls on his knees before Him. The young man is eager to see Jesus. He has a question to ask. He runs to Jesus. The young man also looks up to Jesus or at least to His reputation. The young man falls on his knees – a sign of respect and a recognition of authority. And then the young man asks a spiritual, heartfelt question of Jesus. He desires eternal life and wants to know what he must do to gain it. Oh that we would approach Jesus each day like this young man approached Jesus!

Jesus and the young man’s conversation begins with keeping the Law. This was the goal for all devout Jews. Jesus and the disciples were in Judea so we can safely assume this young man was a devout Jew. He answers Jesus’ inquiry well, saying, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy”. He has followed the rules. From the interactions we see between Jesus and the Pharisees and other religious leaders, following the rules, keeping the Law, was all that mattered. We too like rules. Go to church on Sunday. Receive communion once a month. Sing the songs. Say the Lord’s Prayer. Pay attention during the sermon. Put a little something in the offering plate. See you next Sunday.

Like us, the young man follows the rules, he checks the boxes. But God is not his all in all. Maybe God has most of this young man’s heart, perhaps even 90 or 95% of it. And in spite of his lack of total commitment, verse 21 says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him”. What a Savior! This is the story played out on the cross. Jesus looked at mankind and our proclivity to sin and said, ‘I love you anyway’. Jesus endured the cross, taking all of our sins upon Himself, so that we could continue to run up to Him and kneel before Him. When we do, when we come to our Lord and Savior, and imperfect as we are, Jesus looks upon us and loves us. What a Savior. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Loving Savior, thank you do much for loving me as I am. There is nothing I can do and no one and no thing can separate me from your love. Thank you Lord! Amen.


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Blameless, Upright

Reading: Job 1:1

Verse 1: “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”.

Today we begin a short journey with Job. For the month of October we will read a selection from Job each week. It will be, of course, just a small sampling of who Job was and what his story teaches us. Even so, the passages will reveal much to us about ourselves and our faith journey.

Job was a man who lived in Ur, a city far outside of Israel. He worshipped God in a foreign land in a culture that often counter to God and God’s ways. We find ourselves in a similar position today. In our time culture and society in general is ambivalent to matters of faith, even clashing with our beliefs and practices from time to time. The values and priorities of modern culture in the western world do not align well with the values and priorities that God calls us to practice and live out.

Verse one tells us, “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”. Job is an early example of faith. On our best days we might be blameless and upright for periods of time. While this is our goal, it is not very often our reality for long stretches of time. But because it is our goal, like Job, we too must deal regularly with the attacks of the enemy. Because we are seeking to live and walk out a life of faith, Satan is ever on the lookout for ways to lead us into sin.

Job also feared God and shunned evil. These qualities of Job are much more realistic for us. Job’s fear was not a fear of ghosts or spiders type of fear. It was more of a reverence or healthy respect of God. To have this, one must have an intimate relationship with and knowledge of God. For Job, it came from having a deep and personal connection to God. Because of this, Job shunned evil. When we love God deeply, we too will shun evil. When our love of God is strong, we desire to please God. This leads us to shun evil and therefore to avoid sin, the thing that separates us from God.

As we live out our faith, being blameless and upright are worthy goals. Fortunately, they are not one and done goals. If we stumble or even if we fail, God’s love and mercy allow us to reset our goals and to begin anew. May we strive to grow closer each day, fearing God and shunning evil in all its forms. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit may it be so for me and for you.

God of Job, God of all people, God of me, pour out the power of your Holy Spirit on me today. Help me to be blameless and to live out an upright faith. Amen.


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A World of Yes

Reading: Matthew 5: 27-37

As Jesus continues in Matthew 5, He shifts from murder and anger to the topics of adultery, divorce, and making oaths.  In much the same way as He did with murder, Jesus looks at these three as individual acts, but now adds their impact on society.  In doing so, Jesus seeks to contrast the envisioned culture of God against the current culture of man.  Jesus is laying out a vision for a new world order, one based on an economy of equality and honesty and compassion.

In each of these short teachings on adultery, divorce, and oaths, Jesus is recasting how we should look at these.  Just as with ‘do not murder’ resting upon our anger as it’s root, in these cases Jesus also delves deeper and looks at the impact of these three on the larger culture and society.  In cases of adultery, divorce, and breaking oaths, at the core is our commitment to one another.  In the culture of the day, in Jewish Law, the cases dealing with adultery and divorce  really only expressed concern for the man.  Jesus says, OK then, let the man be responsible.  Jesus says if you look lustfully at a woman, you have committed adultery.  This follows with admonition to then poke your eye out so that you do not continue to sin.  Jesus goes on to say that divorce cannot come on the whim of the man, but can come only in cases of marital unfaithfulness.  In both cases, Jesus is protecting and elevating the status of women and establishing a much higher standard of accountability for all people.

Jesus continues this theme as He turns to making oaths.  He is straightforward – do not swear by anything.  Simply let you ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.  Simple as that.  No more, no less.  This concept can, of course, be applied back to the first two topics: adultery and divorce.  When we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, we are saying ‘no’ to the world.  Our ‘yes’ to Jesus means saying ‘no’ to the desires of the flesh and to our own selfish desires.  It means honoring and respecting all people as equals, as children of God worthy of our love.  This of course extends to marriage – in the “I do” we are saying ‘yes’ to being faithful and obedient and loving to our spouses.

Jesus is calling for a world based on relationships that honor and uphold one another, that place love and concern and care for one another above our own well-being.  He is calling us to live as He lived, bringing honor and glory to God in all we do, say, and to think.  May it be so.


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Faith and Relationship

Jesus grew up and lived for almost 30 years in the same small town.  Almost everyone in town must have known Him.  But they knew Him in the kid-next-door sense.  They had watched Mary and Joseph raise Jesus.  The saw Him do all the things boys from good Jewish homes do – He read and studied the Scripture, He participated in the Passover and other holidays each year, He learned His father’s trade.  When Jesus began His ministry it was away from His hometown.  This passage tells us that as a teacher and healer, He was respected and admired.

In today’s reading we find Jesus back at home.  He reads a passage from Isaiah and all spoke well of Him.  They were amazed at the words that came from His mouth.  But then Jesus spoke of other prophets who went to and ministered to those from ‘outside’.  What He was implying stirred the people up to the point that they were about to throw Him off of a cliff.

It is interesting that this story is in the Bible.  It is not a feel-good story and the people do not seem to gain any understanding from Jesus’ words.  They seem to miss the fact that Naaman was healed by faith.  They don’t remember that the prophet went to the widow in Sidon because of her deep faith.  In His hometown the people knew Jesus the person.  They did not know the Messiah.  The teachings and healing that they were hearing about were admired and respected, not believed.  In essence Jesus was saying that they lacked faith.  They had to have faith, not just know who Jesus was.

The same is true for us.  We can know all the stories in the Bible.  But we must go beyond simply knowing the stories and must enter into a personal relationship with Jesus.  We must believe that the stories are true and that Jesus’ miracles still happen in our lives.  We must call on Him as Lord and Savior to allow any of His power to begin to work in our lives.  Believe.  Have faith.  Know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Scripture reference: Luke 4: 21-30