pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Above All, Love

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse 8: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage today is familiar to many people. When one says “the Ten Commandments” almost everyone has an idea of what you’re talking about and some people can name a few of them. The first part of the Ten Commandments is about our relationship with God and the last part is about our relationships with one another. The first three help us to remember who and what God is as we seek to honor and worship God. The last six define boundaries or morals for how we are to live with and treat each other.

I have always included the fourth commandment with the first three when considering the structure and organization of the Ten Commandments. This morning I read about the idea that #4 connects or “bridges” the other commandments. Simply put the fourth is: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”. For most Jews the Sabbath would be Saturday. Its Sunday for most Christians. Other days can be the Sabbath too. Mine tends to be Friday. I’ve always understood this commandment to be about taking time to connect to God and to give our bodies and souls a day of rest and renewal. It is all this, yes. But this commandment also limits our drive to overwork and it counters our fleshy tendency to set priorities according to the world’s norms instead of God’s. It protects those we might otherwise exploit for our own gain. It reminds us that we are not in control of everything. It joins us with our brothers and sisters in turning towards the Lord our God.

Taken as a whole the Ten Commandments are rooted in love. The Ten are about loving God, loving others, and loving self. On this Sabbath day, may we love well.

Prayer: Dear God, above all else may I love today. May my love for you and for the other be complete and full today. In turn, guide me to love myself too. 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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Testing the Lord

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-4

Verse 2: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”?

Somewhere along the line I once heard that it takes ten positives to overcome one negative. For example, at a dinner party I would need to receive ten positive comments to balance out or get past one negative comment. While the 10:1 ratio varies from person to person, it does illustrate the power of our words. Kind words build others up and unkind words tear others down. As followers of the Lord of love, we need to be speakers of kindness and love.

As the Israelites continue on their journey in the desert they camp at Rephidim, near Horeb. There was no water there so the people begin to quarrel with Moses. The whole conversation is a familiar refrain. We can read this into Moses’ words as he responds to their quarreling by saying, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”? Moses is really questioning their trust in God. Do the people still not trust that God is in control and that God loves them? How many signs must you see? Clearly they have forgotten the parting of the sea and the bitter water becoming good and the quail and manna from heaven. All that God has done for them – it is now like none of that happened.

At that hypothetical dinner party the guests could rave about the appetizers and the starter salad, about the main dish and various sides, and so on. It is all wonderful until the “I didn’t like the ___” comes. All else is forgotten like it was never said. We are like this with God too. Our faith life can be great. Our daily time with God and our worship can lead us to feel that our faith is strong and that our relationship with God is really solid. We feel loved and we know our place as a child of God. And then something negative happens or a challenge arises. It doesn’t even have to rise to the level of losing a job or a loved one. It can be a smaller thing – like someone else getting the promotion or not making the team. Suddenly we are questioning God and his love and care for us. We quickly forget all the other blessings and ask, “Why all these good days, only to endure this”? Oh, how we too must test the Lord our God at times.

In those moments, may the Holy Spirit remind us of God’s abiding and deep love for each of us. May we trust that the sea will part, that the water will come from the rock, that God will provide. In faith may we walk with the Lord day by day. Amen.


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Witness

Reading: Mark 12: 41-44

Verse 43: “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”.

This passage is a hard passage for many Christians today. Part of me wonders if it is a stay-home passage. That is a passage that people know is being preached on so they choose to stay home from church that day or they quit reading the blog at that point. It is a passage that challenges us to our core if we are willing to consider Jesus’ message and to really look within to see if we are equalling the example set by the widow.

“This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”. She only put in two small copper coins. They were worth just a fraction of a day’s wages. This would be equivalent to a $40,000 a year business person putting in a couple of dollars at church today. Jesus and the disciples have watched rich person after rich person throw large sums of money into the temple treasury. Compared to their large gifts, it is hard to say that the widow’s offering is “more” than theirs. Yet Jesus says it is more. In fact, more than all the others.

No matter how big or small our offering is today in terms of cash value, I wonder if Jesus would say our offering was “more” when set beside all the other gifts brought to our church today? It is NOT about the cash value of the gift but is about the cost to the giver. A four-year-old could bring the best offering today, just as the widow did. Jesus explains why the widow’s gift was such. Jesus says, “They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on”. Wow.

Some folks blanch at the word “tithe”. Compared to the widow’s faith, even 10% might look weak. There was not only great cost for the widow, there was a deep, deep faith on display. When you consider what you bless your church or community of faith with each week, does it demonstrate such cost and such faith in God? In not, I ask you to reconsider your faith.

Dear Father who blesses me so richly: may I ever give to you as the widow gave. Whether my time or my money or my gifts, may the portion I give you reflect the love you have for me. Amen.


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Layers, Ripples, and Depth

Reading: Exodus 20: 12-17

Verses 12-17: “Honor your mother and father… you shall not… murder… commit adultery… steal… give false testimony… covet…”

Today we look at the last section of the Ten Commandments. These six deal with our relationship with each other. They are not written in isolation but within the context of all ten. The covenant relationship that God establishes with us in the first four commandments influence our relationships with each other. Just as the first four revolve with loving God fully, so too do the last six center on loving each other completely.

On the surface level the last six are pretty straight forward and easy to understand. Yet each also has layers to it. For example, the command to “honor your mother and father” is generally about our relationship with our parents and the lifelong benefits of doing so. But this commandment can also extend to all who help parent us – grandparents, teachers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and even some of our bosses.

The layers on some can come from the ripple affects they cause. For example, committing adultery is simply not an act that affects just the two people involved directly. It also impacts families and friends and self and maybe even employment or social standing. The same can be said of all of the other six. We never sin in isolation.

The depth or breadth of a couple are also amazing when we take time to really ponder them. The command to not give false testimony is about not lying. Simple enough, right? But is not telling the whole truth or not being fully honest the same sin? When we think of a few other ways that false testimony can play out we can see how deep and wide this sin can really be. Do we gossip? Do we slander? Do we compare others unfairly to elevate ourselves?

The last of the Ten Commandments fits all three of the above. When we covet it can begin as an attraction. But it can soon become an obsession. The layers or levels of covetousness can also create ripples. Who we use or what we are willing to do to get that “thing” can leave a wake of hurt and pain in our trail. The sin of coveting can also become widespread. While it certainly is in our society, it can also become contagious in our lives. Finding joy or pleasure in getting some “thing” can lead us to search for joy or pleasure in other things and in other ways.

But all is not lost! When we love others as God intended, all is good in our lives and in the world. May we love well today!


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These Two Commandments

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-40

Key verse: Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?

The Pharisees come once again to test Jesus.  An expert in the Law asks Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law”?  The Pharisees are all thinking of the Ten Commandments.  There is much debate over which of the Ten is the most important.  Will Jesus pick one of them dealing with our relationship with God or will He pick one dealing with our relationship with each other?  In the Pharisees’ minds, it does not really matter which one Jesus picks.  They know that whichever one Jesus picks, He will alienate more people than He pleases.  They are seeking to once again corner Jesus and to discredit Him with those who follow or are considering following Him.

But Jesus does not pick #1 or #8 or #3.  Instead, Jesus picks from outside the Ten.  Jesus taps into another sacred piece of the Jewish faith.  Jesus quotes two verses, one from Deuteronomy that forms the central part of the twice-daily prayer called the Shema.  The Shema was a memorized prayer that was used each morning and evening.  When Jesus said to “love the Lord your God” with all your heart, soul, and mind, He would have struck a chord with all listening that day.  Smiles would have come to all the faces except the Pharisees.

But Jesus does not end here.  He adds a second commandment.  It is almost as well known.  He adds, “love your neighbor as yourself”.  There is much scriptural support for this choice as well.  Jesus is quoting from Leviticus and this theme runs throughout the scriptures and the Law.  To love all whom God created is a natural extension of loving the Creator.  Again, smiles on almost all of the faces.

Jesus ends with this summary statement: “All the Law and Prophets hang on these two”.  Follow these two commandments – love God and love neighbor – and all else will fall in line.  Jesus’ words are as true today as the day He spoke them.  Every day may we seek to love God and neighbor with all we are – heart, soul, mind, and strength.  May it be so!


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A Right Relationship

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

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

Today’s passage is perhaps one of the most familiar in all of the Old Testament.  They are but ten of the hundreds of laws or commandments found in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.  Yet we know these ten fairly well.  They are on countless Sunday School room walls and most Christians can name a majority of the ten.  They are mostly a list of “shall not” laws with a couple “do” laws in there too.  They are partly about our relationship with God (1-4) and partly about our relationship with each other (5-10).

Maybe the Ten Commandments are well-known because of their timing.  Maybe they are well-known because of the dramatic fashion in which they are given.  Maybe they are top-of-the-list because of their simplicity.  When Moses receives the Ten Commandments on top of the mountain, it is the first time that God has given laws to live by.  This is significant.  The scene below the mountain was powerful too.  God has just led them to victory, a violent storm rages on top of the mountain, and Moses speaks with God in the storm and lives.  And the Ten Commandments are pretty straight forward.  They are simple enough to be taught in Sunday School classes – even for the little ones.

But ultimately, I think the Ten Commandments are significant because of what they begin.  Verse two reads, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”.  For the initial Israelites, they were literally brought out of physical slavery in Egypt.  But quickly for them and for each generation since, right up and through us, the slavery we face is sin.  The Ten Commandments represent the beginning of a personal relationship with God.  This personal relationship is essential if we are to ultimately conquer sin and death.  The first four commandments, in particular, establish the relationship we must have with God.  These must be kept in order to stay in a right relationship with God.  These are summarized in Deuteronomy Six and again by Jesus – love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  The next six commandments cover how we are to live in a right relationship with each other.  These are summarized in Leviticus 19 and by Jesus – love your neighbor as self.  The Ten Commandments begin our right relationship with God and each other.  May we honor the Ten Commandments as we live out our love for God and for neighbor each day.