pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Deep Personal Relationship

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-11

Verse One: “I am the Lord your God”.

The Ten Commandments are all about relationship. Initial glances may lead us to think they are about behavior. They are only to the degree that our behaviors influence our relationships. Today’s passage covers the first four commandments. These four deal with our relationship with God. They also reveal much about who God is and what God desires from us.

Our passage opens with a reminder: “I am the Lord your God”. This is a fact. It conveys authority. The first commandment flows out of this place: no other gods before God. God is to be the one thing we worship, the one we look to for all we need, the one who provides and guides. This exclusivity leads into the second commandment: no idols. Initially we think of little statues carved from wood or stone. But this commandment is so much bigger than that. In this way it ties back into the first. We can have many other gods in our lives. God knew this would be a struggle. Our biggest idol is often self. Most of our other idols in some way elevate our own wants and desires above God’s will for our life. In addition to self, our other gods can be power, possessions, control, pride, time, … and these can quickly become idols – things we worship or pursue or place ahead of our one true God.

The third commandment prohibits the misuse of God’s name. With this commandment we typically think of cursing. It is this but it is more. It can be using God’s name to try and help ourselves. It can be selfish prayers. Misuse can also be failure to use. Sometimes we fail to turn to God when we should. Sometimes we do not come to God in prayer, calling on His Almighty name. In this light, the third leads to the fourth.

The fourth commandment is to keep the Sabbath holy. God calls us to mirror what He did in creating the world. God knows our need for rest and to have a day set aside to worship God. All of this is good and well, but this commandment ultimately asks if we trust God. Can we stop the drive to succeed, the need to work, the want for “me time”, and such to simply rest and trust in God? Can we rest in Him, trusting that God has our back?

“I am the Lord your God”. He is indeed. He desires an exclusive, intimate relationship with each of us. May all we do and say and think this day reflect our deep personal relationship with God.


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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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Love Our Fellow Man

Reading: Romans 13: 8-10

Verse Eight: He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.

God has always loved humankind.  Mankind was created in His image and we are intended to be like Him.  The essence of the relationship between God and human beings is love.  God loves us and cares for us in so many ways.  In return, we love God and try to live lives that are pleasing to God.  To help us understand what love is really all about, Jesus came and walked among us, revealing what it looks like to live out God’s love for humanity.  Jesus did not really come to teach us a bunch of new things but to better understand what was already there.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He did not make up something new.  Instead He reached deep into the scriptures and named two from the Old Testament.  Both centered on love.  Jesus said, in fact, that if we love God with all we are and if we love neighbor as self, then all the other commandments will follow.

Paul picks up on these themes today.  In an increasingly diverse church, Paul is sensing a growing need for unity and community.  So he returns to the foundation: love.  It is at the center of God, was at the center of Jesus, and must be at the center of all believers.  In verse eight Paul writes, “He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law”.  For Paul, we must love one another.  This is where unity and community begin.  Once we truly love one another then things like trust and cooperation and hospitality are soon to follow.  Once we begin to understand this aspect of God’s love, we begin to practice it with others.

Being human himself and understanding that the church is made up of other sinful creatures, Paul also knew another aspect of God’s love was also important.  Paul knew the church also needed to know and live out God’s love revealed in His mercy.  At times our relationships require forgiveness and reconciliation.  This side of God’s love is all about renewing and restoring and forgiving.  This too is a part of God’s love for us.  This too is a part that we are called to share with one another.  In all ways this day, may we each love our fellow man.


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Love Our Fellow Man

Reading: Romans 13: 8-10

Verse Eight: He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.

God has always loved humankind.  Mankind was created in His image and we are intended to be like Him.  The essence of the relationship between God and human beings is love.  God loves us and cares for us in so many ways.  In return, we love God and try to live lives that are pleasing to God.  To help us understand what love is really all about, Jesus came and walked among us, revealing what it looks like to live out God’s love for humanity.  Jesus did not really come to teach us a bunch of new things but to better understand what was already there.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He did not make up something new.  Instead He reached deep into the scriptures and named two from the Old Testament.  Both centered on love.  Jesus said, in fact, that if we love God with all we are and if we love neighbor as self, then all the other commandments will follow.

Paul picks up on these themes today.  In an increasingly diverse church, Paul is sensing a growing need for unity and community.  So he returns to the foundation: love.  It is at the center of God, was at the center of Jesus, and must be at the center of all believers.  In verse eight Paul writes, “He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law”.  For Paul, we must love one another.  This is where unity and community begin.  Once we truly love one another then things like trust and cooperation and hospitality are soon to follow.  Once we begin to understand this aspect of God’s love, we begin to practice it with others.

Being human himself and understanding that the church is made up of other sinful creatures, Paul also knew another aspect of God’s love was also important.  Paul knew the church also needed to know and live out God’s love revealed in His mercy.  At times our relationships require forgiveness and reconciliation.  This side of God’s love is all about renewing and restoring and forgiving.  This too is a part of God’s love for us.  This too is a part that we are called to share with one another.  In all ways this day, may we each love our fellow man.


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Do Not…

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-26

In this section of Matthew, Jesus deals with three of the ten commandments.  As always, Jesus seeks to get at the root of the Law instead of just the surface letters.  Today’s segment of this section deals with “do not murder”.  For most people in Jesus’ audience and for most of us reading it today, we hear this commandment and think, ‘no problem’ – we would never think of actually murdering someone.  It is one of the commandments you read and move right by because it seems so easy to abide by.

But Jesus says, not so fast.  He dives right into the heart of this commandment.  He first addresses the root that can cause murder.  Jesus focuses in on anger.  He states that if we are angry with our brother (or sister) then we are subject to judgment.  First, He says, in essence, do not come to the altar seeking God’s forgiveness or blessing if you are harboring anger or if you have wronged someone else.  Jesus advises us to make things right with our human relationships before trying to right our relationship with God.  Second, Jesus advises us to settle disputes quickly and personally – long before it ever gets to the judge.  Jesus is telling us to be personally accountable for our relationships.

On the surface, Jesus is speaking to our relationships with each other.  But there is also an inner layer.  Anger is something that can burn and smolder within us.  Think of the deepest grudge you have ever held or have heard about.  In the original text, the word translated ‘anger’ carried the idea of seething or underlying rage.  If we allow our anger to fester and to feed upon itself, our anger soon comes to match this idea of rage bubbling just below the surface.  It can build pressure until it erupts in a verbal tirade or even in violence.  Suddenly murder may not seem too far away in an extreme case.  In most cases, the words spew forth and much damage is done to our relationship.

It is relatively easy to obey “do not murder”.  The concept of “do not be angry” is much harder to master.  The battle must begin early – we must be honest and open and deal humbly with one another.  We must seek to love first, to listen carefully, and to be quick to reconcile when we wrong another.  May the Lord our God strengthen and encourage us in our walk.