pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Free to Love

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 13-15

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”.

Paul speaks a lot of freedom. While it is true that in Christ we find much freedom, it is a freedom that is bound by love. We are free to live a full and wonderful life, but Paul is clear that there are lines that we are not to cross. In Paul’s way of thinking, we are free to love others. Paul describes the love we are to have for one another as “becoming slaves to one another”. That means we place the needs of others far ahead of our own needs.

In verse 14 Paul makes an important statement. He writes, “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”. This is a big and bold statement. As Saul, he would have never made this statement. The law and keeping every letter of the law was very important to the former Pharisee. For most Jews, the law was a key focus and was the underpinning of life. Paul has come to understand what Jesus meant when he talked about love. It was a complete and sacrificial love that gave all for the other.

When we are willing to live out this sacrificial love for the other, we are building up or pouring into the other. Instead of giving ourselves away and emptying ourselves, we find that we too are filled up and we feel more freedom to love others. As we give ourselves away, we gain more and more. Our freedom in Christ abounds!

Prayer: God, grant me the opportunity to pour into another today. As I do so, thank you for your giving love that overflows my heart. Amen.


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Power

Reading: Luke 13: 31-35

Verse 31: “Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you'”.

Power is something Jesus, the Pharisees, and Herod all have. Power is something we all have too. The Pharisees and Herod see Jesus’ power as threatening to their power. We too can see Jesus’ power as something that can threaten our lives too.

Jesus uses His power to do good for others. He uses His power to teach a better way of life: the way of love. He also uses His power to heal and restore people. The physical healings of the blind, lame, deaf, crippled, mute, leprous… restore people back into community. The spiritual healings of the tax collectors, prostitutes, theives, adulterers… restore people to wholeness. Jesus’ power is a power that gives life to both the individual and the community.

The Pharisees’ and Herod’s power is centered upon themselves. It is used to take from others and to keep others down in order to build up their own comfort and prestige. It is the opposite of Jesus’ giving power. Some Pharisees say to Jesus, “Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you”. Go away Jesus, you are raining on our parade. Jesus sees right through them. Basically He says He has things to do and they or Herod cannot and will not get in the way.

This too is true of our power. When we follow God’s lead and use our power to do the right thing, to correct the wrong thing, to share Jesus’ love and care, to help one in need – nothing on earth can stop us. Yes, some can oppose us too and some can put up barriers, but they are just bumps in the road. Just as it was with Jesus, no obstacle can stop what God wants to accomplish in and through us. God will always prevail. This fact is what kept Jesus driving towards Jerusalem, towards the cross. Jesus had an unshakable faith in God’s plan. May we live the same way all day, every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, may I use the power I have in you to bring good, to offer love, to lift others up. Amen.


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Love in Word and Deed

Reading: Luke 6: 27-31

Verses 27-28: “Love your enemies, do good… bless… pray for those who mistreat you”.

The world into which Jesus speaks is a world ruled by the Roman Empire. There is peace but it is peace bought with the sword and violence. For Jesus’ audience, they would be living a controlled, limited life. The Romans controlled them, allowing a little religious freedom, but little else. Heavy taxation was the main burden. Individuals who refused to follow the rules or who rebelled or spoke out were quickly made an example of. Crucifixion was the Roman’s choice for dealing with dissenters – it was painful and gruesome and it was a visible punishment and deterrent. Jesus Himself would suffer this death. Even so, Jesus was all about love.

Today’s passage speaks into this environment. To start, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good… bless… pray for those who mistreat you”. The Romans would have come quickly to mind, followed by others who have aligned themselves with those in authority for personal gain. To think of such as these and to think of loving, blessing, and praying for them would have seemed quite radical. It was. Jesus’ kingdom of love is not of this world. It does not make sense to the people of the world and at times it is very hard for His followers to live out.

When we are able to love or bless or pray for those who hate us, it can make a big impact both on us and on them. It changes the dynamics of the relationship and how we see each other. Love has a great deal of power.

To put that love into action can be even more powerful. This is what Jesus is talking about in verses 29 and 30 – giving, giving, giving. Love must be both words and actions. It is easy to say we love our enemies. It is the next level to actually practice it.

Our passage today closes with a version of the golden rule: “do to others as you would have them do to you”. Easy to practice with our family or friends (most of the time), but harder to do with the one who just abused or mistreated or took advantage of you. Tomorrow we dive into this idea more. For today, may we love all with both our words and our deeds.

Prayer: Lord, may I love all the same, no matter who I cross paths with today. Whether my best friend or my wife or someone I do not get along with, help me to love all with your love today. Amen.


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With a Joyful Heart

Reading: 2 Corinthians 8: 8-15

Verse Twelve: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has”.

Paul opens this section with a reminder about the ultimate giver: Jesus Christ. As a way to nudge the Corinthians, who are struggling to give as they committed to, Paul reviews the gift Jesus gave. Not only did Jesus leave heaven and become human, becoming poor, He also gave His life so that they could be rich in their eternal inheritance. Just as Jesus completed His work, Paul wants to see the Corinthians complete their work.

The Corinthians were eager to receive and accept the call to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul even reminds them of how well they did last year and encourages them now to “finish the work” with the same enthusiasm that they began it. We do not know exactly what has caused the stagnation, but the drive that was present at the beginning has certainly been lost. This scenario is one that we are all familiar with. That project that we began with such enthusiasm now sits on a shelf or in a closet gathering dust. Every time we see it we are reminded that it needs finished but we lack the motivation to get it back out.

Paul is not asking for the moon. In verse eleven, he acknowledges that they just need to give “according to your means”. He also emphasizes that the giving must come from the heart, saying, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has”. Giving should be joyful and willing. It should not be done grudgingly or if it causes undue hardship. The spirit of the gift can be like Cain’s offering in Genesis – the first fruits given as a thanks offering. It can also be like the widow’s gift in Mark 12. Yes, she only gave a mere two copper coins. It was small but it was also all she had. She, like Cain, gave trusting that God would continue to provide.

Whether an exercise in faith or as a joyful thanksgiving for the blessings that God has given us, may we too be willing to give. Our gift may show our commitment to support our brothers and sisters in Christ or it may simply show our thanks to God. May we give with a joyful heart – whether our time, our talents, or our resources – for the glory of God and for the building of His kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 8: 1-8

Verse Three: “I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.”

Paul is encouraging the folks of the church in Corinth to be faithful in following through with their pledge to support the poor back at the home church in Jerusalem. Apparently, when first asked about giving to this cause, the Corinthian church was eager to help. But as time wore on their words did not quite match their actions.

If we are honest, we have all been there. We said ‘yes’ to something because it was a good thing to support or do. But as the event or the date approaches, we struggle to accomplish what we had promised to do. Maybe that date now has a competing interest. Maybe our finances have changed and it would be easier not to. And sometimes, what we committed to does not seem like such a good thing when it comes right down to it.

Paul does not know why the Corinthians are not coming through with their promised offering, he just knows that they are not. So Paul reminds them of their commitment. By way of being encouraging, he shares that the other churches have done the right thing in spite of their hardships. They gave generously. He also reminds them that this commitment is one of faith and of doing God’s will. Paul lifts us the things they do well – faith, knowledge, speech – and encourages them to do the same in their giving. Paul closes with a bit of a challenge: “test the sincerity of your love” by comparing it with the love of these other churches who kept their commitment.

When we too struggle to honor our commitment or to do what we said we’d do, it will do us well to first return to the ‘why’. Why did we feel led to say ‘yes’ or to make that commitment? Then we should test it against God’s will. Does this thing bring glory and honor to God? And if it is still difficult or hard to do it, then we should “test the sincerity of our love”. The last question we should ask is the question Paul also often asks: are we doing as much as we can for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? When all of these are affirmative, then we usually are able to honor our commitment. When we do we too come to know experience the joy of giving. May all we do and say be pleasing to God. Amen.


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Suffering, Loving, Sacrifice

Reading: 2 Timothy 1: 8-14

“Join with me in suffering for the gospel”, Paul says to Timothy.  “Take up your cross and follow me”, says Jesus.  This idea that we too will suffer for our faith is a common refrain in the New Testament.  While most of us will certainly not face the cross like Jesus or be beaten and imprisoned like Paul, each of us will be called upon to willingly suffer for our faith.  To sacrifice is at the root of our faith.

Death and imprisonment do not threaten the typical Christian in the 21st century.  While we must acknowledge that this reality exists for some Christians in our world today, for most of us the suffering we are called to is of a different nature.  Some of the suffering we face will be caused by our faith.  For example, at times the choices to abstain from things or activities may bring a little persecution our way.  At other times choosing to speak up for one dealing with injustice or to stand up for one being bullied or abused may draw some negative attention our way.  Faith and following the way of Christ can lead to public suffering.

Our faith can also lead to more private suffering.  When we choose to give away or provide food or clothing or shelter to one in need it is at a cost to ourselves.  We live with less so another can have some.  When we choose time with God or church or family over work or some other secular pursuit we are sacrificing wealth or popularity or promotion.  This too can bring suffering.  When we choose to befriend or engage the outcast or ostracized or to walk with someone who is struggling in life, we sacrifice time and energy and may also open ourselves up to ridicule or persecution or some other form of suffering.  Faith calls us to live God with all we are and to love neighbor as Christ first loved us.  Faith asks us to place self after God and others.

As we live out our faith may we be willing to suffer and sacrifice so that all may come to know and experience Christ’s love, hope, and mercy through our extravagant love and servant’s sacrifice.