pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Overflow

Reading: Philippians 1: 21-26

Verses 21 and 23: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain… I am torn between the two!

Paul writes today from a Roman prison cell.  Death looms in the air.  The executioners could come at any moment.  Yet even in this place Paul is full of hope.  He has come to a place in his life where his faith is absolutely secure.  He is assured that if this day were his last that he would depart and be with Jesus – “which is far better”.  This is what Paul means when he says, “to die is gain”.

But Paul also feels this pull to living.  He feels a pull to live so that he can continue in his ministry.  He knows that if he “stays in the body” that he will continue to have fruitful labor.  His work will continue to be about bringing people to Christ and about helping people to grow in their faith.  This is what he means by “to live is Christ”.  He also acknowledges another “better” – it is better for the church in Philippi if he continues to live so that he can continue on with them on their faith journey.

Although Paul is “torn between the two”, there are some lessons in his circumstance and attitude for us.  First, his focus is on others.  It would be far better to be with Jesus in heaven.  Many people today feel this way.  But like Paul they know God has more in store for them.  Paul loves Jesus and the church more than himself so he joyfully remains.  Second, he finds joy in the suffering.  Paul is living into the idea of being worthy to suffer for Christ.  He has stood firm in the faith and gladly faces the consequences for doing so.  And lastly, Paul is reflecting Christ.  His desire and will to serve others regardless of the cost to self models Christ’s example to others.  Just as Paul has chosen to closely follow Christ, his example here beckons us to do the same.  In all we do and say each day, may we strive to allow our “joy in Jesus Christ” to overflow into the lives of all we meet.  May it be so.

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Binding and Letting Loose

Reading: Matthew 18: 18-20

Verse 20: For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.

What do we bind on earth?  What do we let loose on earth?  And more importantly, what does God desire us to bind and to let loose on earth?  Jesus came to establish God’s kingdom here on earth.  If we look at the example set by Jesus, we can get a glimpse of the answers to these questions.  Jesus first sought to bind with love.  Love was at the center of and bound all of His relationships together.  He also spoke of love covering over sin (which we see on the cross in its fullest form) and of love overcoming evil.  When we bind love to things, sin and evil flee.  In addition, Jesus sought to bind joy, peace, kindness, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to all He said and did.  Jesus bound Himself to these things and they flowed through His very being as He brought the kingdom of God to the earth.  These same things that Jesus bound Himself to here on earth remain bound to Him in heaven.  He says the same will be true for us in eternity.

What did Jesus let loose on earth?  Jesus let loose God’s justice and mercy for all, a radical hospitality that welcomed all sorts of people, an inclusivity that drew all into God’s love, and an unending well if healing and restoration that sought to make all things new and whole.  Jesus burst open the doors of the church and the kingdom of God flowed out into the world.  And lastly, when Jesus departed this Earth to return to the right hand of God, He let loose the Holy Spirit.  He let loose the Holy Spirit to live in and to move amongst us, keeping Jesus’ words and actions fresh in our hearts and minds, ever leading and guiding us to live and love as Jesus did.

As individuals and as churches, we choose what we bind ourselves to and what we let loose here on earth.  When we choose to closely connect ourselves to Jesus, what we bind and let loose mirrors what Jesus bound and let loose.  In doing so, we also bring the kingdom of God here to the earth.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we seek to spread the gospel to all peoples and to all nations.  Jesus encourages us to move out together, promising, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them”.  May we bind ourselves to Jesus Christ this day as we seek to let loose the kingdom of God here on the earth.


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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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Come and Follow

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Jesus was quite the radical in His day.  He called a group of men to be His disciples not from within the elite of the pre-Rabbi schools but out of ordinary life.  He did not spend all of His time in the temple but was out in the towns and villages eating and teaching the sinners and the lost.  Jesus did not simply read the scriptures and proclaim the word, but He also rolled up His sleeves and served others as a mean to show them God’s love.  He lived this way so that we would know what it looked like to live as a Christian.

In today’s passage we hear these words: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.  The first step is to deny self.  Society teaches us to first look out for #1, but Jesus says to put self last.  Jesus loved God with all He was and then next loved all of His neighbors more than He loved Himself.  He first sought to serve God and neighbor and only then did He consider His own needs.  In doing so, Jesus met people’s basic needs, sought equality for all, showed love and forgiveness and compassion, and lived a humble and simple life.

The next part involves taking up our cross.  On the cross of Calvary, Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice.  When Jesus calls us to take up our cross, He is asking us to die to self, to be willing to live with less so that others may have some, and to be a servant to all.

And then He says, “Follow me”.  Jesus calls us to do what He did, to follow His example.  Get out there into the ordinary of life – get outside the walls of the temple and our homes and our comfort zones.  Spend time with the lost – the sinners and the atheists and the non-believers.  Eat with them, talk with them, share Jesus with them.  Find ways to serve others, to meet people’s basic needs, to lift them up, and to bring them hope and justice.  In all this, we follow the One who lived God’s love out loud.  May we come and follow, showing the light and love of Christ to all for the glory of God.


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Follow

Reading: Matthew 11: 16-19

Verse 19: The Son of Man came eating and drinking… a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were sent by God – one to proclaim the coming of the good news and the other to bring the good news.  Both men showed signs of God’s presence within them and were feared by the religious authorities for their connection to God.  As Jesus speaks today, He questions the current people’s ability to recognize what or who is before them.  In the end He says, “wisdom is proved right by her actions”.  Today we would maybe say “the proof is in the pudding”.  The question for us as followers of Jesus is: do we walk the walk?

In Jesus’ time, the tradition of becoming a Rabbi was a long and arduous process.  All young boys aspired to be a Rabbi.  The Rabbi was well respected and looked up to.  All young boys would study the Torah, memorizing each word of what we know as Genesis through Deuteronomy (180 pages in my Bible).  Those who showed exceptional promise would go on the further study.  Those who excelled here would ask to follow a Rabbi.  From this group a Rabbi would select three to five to follow him.  This small group would literally follow the Rabbi everywhere and would emulate all he did.  It was quite an involved process to get to train so that one day you might become the new Rabbi.  As others surpassed you, at whatever step, you would return home, most likely taking up the family business.

This was how one would become a religious authority.  It was how it was done.  John and Jesus simply responded to the call of God and went into ministry.  The authority that both men carried did gain respect from some, but not from all.  As our verses say, many called John ‘crazy’ or demon-possessed.  Jesus was looked down upon for the company He kept.  Verse 19 reads, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking… a friend of tax collectors and sinners”.  In the end both men served the God they loved.  Each man filled the exact role that God had planned for each.  John pointed to Jesus as the one to follow.  Jesus gave us the example to follow.  As we live out this day, may we clearly follow Jesus, looking to be His witness and His hands and feet in our world.


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Lead and Guide and Protec

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 22: …He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.

The disciples have been taught about the Holy Spirit.  Now, today in our passage, they receive the Holy Spirit themselves as Jesus breathed it into them.  Just as God breathes human life into each of us at birth, here Jesus breathes new life into His followers.  The disciples transition from living with Jesus to having Him live IN them in the person of the Holy Spirit.  This gift of constant presence within comes with the charge to go out into the world to continue Jesus’ work.  To do so, the disciples must first overcome their own fears and doubts and, second, must trust fully in the Spirit.

Jesus does little more than give them the basic charge.  He says, “I am sending you” and then ‘He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”‘.  Although the scope and range of the assignment is huge and vast, it does not come with detailed instructions or a handbook or a manual.  Any of this would have led to a trust in human things instead of the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide and protect.  And after all, the disciples have spent three solid years receiving on-the-job training from the Master.  From the results of their work going forward, we can see that they did indeed go out and preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

We too bear the same charge and we too have the presence of the same Spirit with us as we go forth.  And we have the Bible.  Within His word we can read and review and study how Jesus and His followers lived out their love of God in the world.  We can glean out how to pray and how to fully trust in God’s care and provision.  Through the witness and testimony we find in the Word we can come to see and understand the power of the Holy Spirit and can then trust in the Holy Spirit to lead and guide and protect us as well.  Filled with this knowledge and trust, may we also go out to share the good news of Jesus Christ.