pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Way of Life

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verses 21 and 22: “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you…”

As Jesus begins to unpack how he is the fulfilment of the Law, over and over he uses the two statements above. The “you have heard…” part refers to the specific law and the “but I say to you” is Jesus unpacking said Law. In this space we find ourselves between religion (that which can be legalistic and intellectual) and faith (that which is guided by the heart and can be more fluid). Put another way, before Jesus we had religion; in Jesus we find faith. A great example of this would be Jesus’ frequent clashes with the religious leaders over his habit of healing on the Sabbath. The Law said not to work on the Sabbath. Healing was work. Yet Jesus’ compassion led him to do this work on the Sabbath several times.

After a sermon on stewardship and tithing a pastor was approached by a parishioner. He appreciated the call to give to God. But he had a question or two. He wanted to know about exactly what amount does the 10% come from. He asked, “Is that after I pay for my new car, my new phone, my mortgage, and all my other necessities? Or is it based on some other figure”? A legalistic religion looks for loopholes and ways to limit obedience to the minimum letter of the law.

In our reading the first law is “Do not murder”. For most people this is a pretty easy command to keep if you are only willing to take it at its surface level. After the “but I say to you” the command becomes much more difficult to fully obey. Jesus begins by saying that we cannot even be angry with another. He also adds that this means to not speak harshly of another. Certainly this does not include gossip and slander and half truths, does it? Of course it does. Jesus backs this up by saying not to come before God if you have an unsettled disagreement still out there. What was that about “forgive us our trespasses just as…”? Jesus concludes unpacking this command by telling us to make things right with our adversaries. When one dives down deep with Jesus and looks at the heart behind “do not murder”, one begins to see the way of life that God calls us to.

Take some time to consider the depth behind the commands on adultery, divorce, and oaths. If you find these helpful to your walk of faith, consider working your way on through verse 48. That one is the real clincher. May our faith deepen more and more as we delve into the faith that Jesus taught and practiced.

Prayer: Dear God, what a challenge. In some ways religion is easier than faith – just tell me what to do. But you call me to faith – to living out a heart connection with you. Walk with me into the depths of your love, O God. For there I begin to see and understand what Jesus is unpacking in passages like today’s. Thank you for calling me to more. Amen.


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Praise the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20

Verse 15: “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly”.

Our Psalm of praise comes from a time of joy and draws praise for God. The exile has ended and the people are back in the Promised Land. Jerusalem and Zion extol their praise to God. God has restored them, has strengthened their gates, and has provided them with the finest wheat. It is indeed a time to praise the Lord!

Fresh from the consequential time in exile, the people of Israel reconnect to God and to the law. In verse fifteen we read, “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly”. The people rejoice now in what was rejected just a couple of generations before. The psalmist compares God’s word to the snow and hail that completely covers the land. But the word and the law are not hard or burdensome. Through understanding the precepts flow and bring life to the people. The psalmist rejoices in Israel’s role as God’s chosen people. To them alone has God revealed the word and the law.

Reading today’s passage from a 21st century Christian lens, we understand that the fuller revelation of God has expanded the circle greatly. The direct descendants of Abraham are not the only people to enjoy the word of God. Jesus Christ revealed the breadth and depth of God’s love as he broke down barriers and defeated the power of sin that had so long kept God’s children enslaved. Jesus burst the circle wide open as he sent the disciples to all people and to all nations. The incarnate word of God was not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles, for the slaves and the free, for men and women,… Because we too have been drawn into the circle of God’s love in Jesus Christ, we praise God for his word that guides us as well as for the gift of the Holy Spirit that leads us. With all that we are, may we too praise the Lord!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your love continues to extend. Through Jesus Christ it has grown to encompass even sinners like me. As the disciples of Jesus Christ continue to carry the good news to every corner of the world and to each neighborhood in our communities, your love continues to grow. Use me today to share the good news with others. Amen.


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A Home of Love

Reading: John 14: 23-24

Verse 23: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teachings… We will come to him and make our home with him”.

The word “home” conjures up many memories. It is the place we lay our head down at night. Right now, for me, home is the grey house across the street from the church I serve. It has been filled with our stuff, but what makes it home is the memories created with family and friends and even surprise guests. Many homes are filled with such memories. Each of our memories are built around and upon a relationship. It is these relationships and the attached memories ethat make a house into a home.

The key to our most important relationships is love. The relationships that matter the most in our lives are built upon love. It is love that leads us to be selfless and more concerned with the well-being and happiness of the other. In our passage today, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teachings”. In our relationship with Jesus, love is demonstrated with obedience to His teachings or commands. The first two commands that we are told to work on were loving God with all that we are and loving our neighbors as Jesus first loved us. Both of these are not always easy to do. That is why God offers us some help. Jesus goes on to say, “We will come to him and make our home with him”. If we love and obey Jesus, He will come and dwell in our heart.

Jesus just waits for us to extend that invitation. Once we do, it is the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ that makes it possible to live in love. The Holy Spirit is given and it leads and guides, it reminds and convicts, helping us to walk in love. When we ask Jesus to make a home in us, we are inviting love to lead us. It is through that love that we build our relationship with Jesus deeper and deeper. May we each love well today.

Prayer: God of love, walk with me today, helping me to be love to all I meet. Make my words, my thoughts, my actions all point to the love of Christ in me. Amen.


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As I Have Loved You…

Reading: John 13: 31-35

Verse 34: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another”.

For a very high percentage of people, if they had to describe God or Jesus in just one word, they would pick “love”. I myself cannot think of a better word. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus selected two that both revolve around this word: love God and love neighbor. Arguably the best known verse revolves around the word: “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). So, how can Jesus say to His disciples, “a new command I give you”?

The God of the Bible is a God of love. God’s love is revealed in many ways. Israel is God’s chosen people and God demonstrates love by setting them apart as a special group. God shows love by forgiving this wandering people over and over again. God proves love by bringing food in the wilderness, by parting the waters, by rebuilding the city and temple. God reiterates the loving covenant time and time again by sending many prophets to draw the Israelites back into a loving relationship with God. God’s love becomes more real when Jesus took on flesh and dwelled among us.

Jesus loved as God loved in many ways. Jesus forgave and cared for the people. He taught them a better way to live together. Jesus rebuilt people’s lives. Jesus also deepened our understanding of loving God. Jesus was obedient to following God’s will and way, even to the point of death. Jesus demonstrated love in a new way too. The new command was this: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another”. The kicker is the “as I have loved you” part. Jesus introduced the concept of humble servant as the means to love. He put other’s needs far ahead of His own. He always considered others before Himself. He gave away or shared what little He had so that others could at least have a little. In all He did, love led the way. Jesus encourages His disciples and all who will follow Him to do the same. May we be love lived out today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I think about how you loved and continue to love, I cannot fully comprehend how to love as you loved. Yet I try. Lord, help me to move further along my journal to love better, to love deeper. May it be so each day. Amen.


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Your Love

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

Verses 30 and 31: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… soul… mind… and strength… Love your neighbor as yourself”.

If I had to choose one word to describe God and Jesus, it would be love. Love defines so many of their thoughts, words, and actions. It is no surprise that Jesus identifies loving God and loving each other as the most important commands in the Bible. Love is why Jesus died for us. Love is how others will know we are His disciples. Faith, hope, and love abide – but the greatest of these is love.

Jesus loved God with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength. This love is reflected in many ways. Jesus loved God’s Word. The Bible reveals who and what God is and to spend time getting to know God is a way to love God more. Jesus knew the scriptures. Jesus was obedient to God. In always following God’s will, Jesus demonstrated love through obedience. He aligned Himself with God, being God’s extension of love here on earth. Jesus modeled God’s love in the ways that He loved those that He encountered. Jesus revealed God’s love for humanity in the interactions and relationships that He lived out while here on earth.

Our love for God should reveal itself in the same ways that it did in Jesus’ life. We should spend time daily in the Word, getting to know God better so that we can love God more fully. Our obedience to God’s will and way should show our complete love for God. And, like Jesus, the love of God should flow out of our hearts and into the lives of all we meet. The love we have for God should go out to all of God’s children. No matter who our neighbor is at any particular moment, in them we should see a fellow child of God and we should love them as God loves us and as God loves them.

Like God and Jesus, may all know us as love. May our words, actions, and thoughts reveal the love of God in us to a world that needs to know that love.

Heavenly Father, in you is love. May I dwell and rest in you today. May your love in me become more and more complete. May it be so. Amen.


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Fellow Children of God

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

Verse 34: “You are not far from the kingdom of God”.

Today’s passage contains what I believe are the two quintessential requirements of our faith. Jesus is asked about the most important commandment and the two He gives summarize our faith practices. If all we do is love God completely and love our neighbors as ourselves, then we will be living out an excellent witness. Today, though, I want to focus on the relationship between Jesus and the man.

We know that today’s interaction occurs within a group of people, but it is as if they are the only two there. In my mind it is a personal conversation that others happen to overhear. It does not matter to Jesus or the man who else us there that day. This happens elsewhere in scripture too. Jesus focuses in on that person and they are all that matters. This is the type of relationship and personal interaction that we are called to have with one another.

People can treat each other poorly. We can have an “I’m the boss and do as I say” attitude that leaves others feeling of little value. We can have a “this is just the way it is (or has always been)” attitude, leaving others feeling powerless. We can interact with people in other ways that diminish, exclude, overlook, discount the other. This is not the way of Jesus; it is not loving God and neighbor.

Instead, Jesus focuses in on the man. I envision Jesus looking him right in the eye the whole time. Maybe He even steps a bit closer or places a hand on his shoulder. This should be the model for our personal interactions with each other. The focus and attention communicate value, worth, importance, acceptance. It says they matter to us, that our relationship is important. As they prepare to part ways, Jesus appreciates the man’s faith, saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. This statement also says “you are drawing close to God”. Jesus sees the heart of God in this man. May our words and actions convey the same to others today as we encounter each fellow child of God. May it be so.

Lord God, slow me down, focus me in. Help me to be one-on-one with each I encounter today. Help me to see you in them. Amen.


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Fill My Heart

Reading: Mark 10: 2-12

Verse 5: “It was because your hearts were hard…”.

The Pharisees come to test Jesus with a question. Instead of just answering, He asks them what they think – “What did Moses command you”? He asks to begin a conversation. An answer would close the topic and perhaps the conversation. Jesus does not talk much about the legality of divorce but instead about the underlying issue that leads to the question. Jesus does affirm God’s commands from Genesis and adds, “Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate”. For Jesus, marriage should be a lifelong covenant relationship.

To the Pharisees answer Jesus initially says, “It was because your hearts were hard…”. In essence, Jesus was acknowledging that at times things happen because our hearts are hard. In this particular case Jesus is speaking to divorce but this thought applies to much more. If we were to use “because your heart was hard…” as a sentence starter, we could add many, many things.

So, what is the opposite of a hard heart? The obvious choice would be a soft heart. Instead of having a hard heart filled with anger, pride, jealousy… what would life be like if we had a heart filled with love and generosity and compassion? Instead of having a heart filled with the things of this world, what would it look like to have a heart filled with the things of God? It would look good. May it be so for you and for me.

Loving God, fill me with your love for the other. Giving God, fill me with your generous spirit. Compassionate God, give me eyes to see the needs and a heart to meet them. Fill my heart with you, O God. Amen.