pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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To God What Is God’s

Reading: Matthew 22: 18-22

Verse 20: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

There are certain times when we must give something.  In our real life worlds there are times when I must give hours to my job.  There are times when I must give time to my school work.  There are times when I must give attention to my health.  These are but a few of the demands on our time.  I also must give love to my family and friends, compassion to those in need that I encounter, kindness to the stranger.  And lastly I must give money to the cell phone company and to the grocery store, to the restaurant and the university.  There are many things that demand our time, our emotions, and our money.  Although many of these are “required”, to decide how and where we “spend” all that we have left takes some serious prioritizing.

In today’s passage, Jesus is faced with a tough question.  To answer one way will anger the religious leaders; to answer the other way will anger the political leaders.  It appears to be a no-win situation.  At times our choices on how and where we spend our time, emotions, and money can feel the same way.  To all gathered there that day, Jesus gives an amazing answer.  He says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”.  If this coin stamped with the image and title of Caesar is due to Caesar, give it to Caesar.  For the most part we willingly follow this concept today – paying our bills and taxes to whom they are due.

The second half can be a bit harder.  Yes, I can give that one hour on Sunday morning and that hour once a month to my committee.  And, sure, I can give $10 a week to the offering.  Well, okay, I’ll even go once a year to cook and serve the meal at the rescue mission.  Others far exceed giving these 70 hours and roughly $500 a year to their image-bearer.  Many in both groups wrestle with the question of giving enough.  They realize how much God gives them and they wrestle with what they are giving to Him.  It is a good wrestling.  God will place upon our hearts the call for our time, our emotions, our money.  It is a personal decision born out of a personal relationship with our God.  We are made in God’s image, blessed by His love and care.  This day, what shall we give?

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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.


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Trust and Call

Reading: Romans 10: 5-13

Verse Ten: It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Rules or faith?  Myself or God?  Know or trust?  Living by faith can be a challenge to each of us.  Paul begins today’s passage with a quote from Moses about the Law.  Moses is basically saying that if one follows the Law, one is righteous for living according to God’s rules.  But the Law is something outside of us.  It is a list of do’s and don’ts.  The Law focuses on what I can (and cannot) do and is very black and white.  It says things like do not murder and keep the Sabbath holy.  In this sense, the Law is easy to understand.

To live by faith is another matter.  Paul quotes Deuteronomy and writes, “The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart”.  Faith in Jesus Christ is very much an internal thing.  Faith is about a relationship that shifts the focus from us to God.  This relationship begins with confessing “Jesus is Lord”.  This confession places Jesus instead of self on the throne of our heart.  It becomes less and less about what we can or cannot do (the Law again) and more and more about what Jesus is doing in and through us.

The Law is about knowing God in our head.  Faith is about having God in our heart.  The short distance between head and heart can be a very long journey.  Sitting in a pew each Sunday is following the rule written in your head.  Worshipping and praising God each week is Jesus living out of your heart.  It is a world of difference to have God in your head versus having Jesus in your heart.  Paul writes, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”.  Faith resides in the heart.  It leads us on that journey to confession of our sins and receiving mercy and forgiveness.  Through our relationship with Jesus Christ we are made holy and pure once again.

Paul concludes today’s passage with two more Old Testament quotes.  First, from Isaiah: “Anyone who trusts Him will never be put to shame”.  Faith involves trust.  In faith, Jesus has our backs.  Second, from Joel: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.  It’s not ‘could be’ or ‘might’ but WILL BE saved.  Trust and call on the Lord.  He is all we need.  Jesus is our all in all.  Thanks be to God.


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Intercessor One

Reading: Romans 8: 26-39

Verse 26: We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.

Paul knew that we, as humans, are weak.  He knew from his own faith journey that living the life of faith cannot be done on our own.  Through his own life, Paul has discovered that the Holy Spirit is an essential part of one’s faith.  It is only through the power and presence of the Spirit in the life of a believer that one can overcome our human weaknesses.

A key role the Holy Spirit plays in our lives is that of intercessor.  The Spirit works as an advocate for us, coming before God with prayers on our behalf.  When we do not know what to pray for or how to put our mess into words, then the Spirit takes over.  Verse 26 speaks of this: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us”.  In this way, the Holy Spirit is always bringing our needs before the throne of God.

The second way the Spirit prays for us begins with God searching our hearts.  In doing so, our weaknesses and shortcomings are revealed and the Spirit prays for these “in accordance with the will of God”.  In this way the Spirit helps to form and shape us into the person God created us to be.  Through this prayerful transformation process, we grow to become more like Jesus, the image of God.  As our faith grows and we become more mature in our faith, we become justified through the saving work of Jesus.  In our humanity we will always be weak.  Therefore we will stumble and fall now and then.  In these moments, the love of God again enters in and we are made righteous by His grace.  It is through Jesus that our weakness is made spiritually strong.  Through all of this the Holy Spirit continues to lift us up in prayer, to bring our needs before God, and to reveal in us what needs to conform more to the likeness of Christ.  Thank you God for the gift of the Holy Spirit.


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The Joy of My Heart

Reading: Psalm 119: 105-112

Verse 105: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

The psalmist opens this section of the longest chapter in the Bible with these familiar words.  As one reads, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path”, one can’t help but have the tune come to mind.  The truth that the psalmist writes remains as true today as it was the day he wrote it.  The depth of commitment we hear in the words of our passage is still the depth of commitment that God continues to look for today in each of us who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our life.

The opening line speaks of God’s Word guiding us through life.  A popular acronym for Bible is “basic instructions before leaving earth”.  Spending time daily in the Word continues to be essential to faithful discipleship.  It is so important to spend time each day with our Bibles, meditating on God’s ways and learning more about what it means to follow Jesus.

The psalmist does not tout a blessed and perfect life once he made the choice to make his oath to follow God’s ‘righteous law’.  Instead he admits that his life continues to have suffering and the wicked continue to tempt him.  We too must acknowledge that life is not instantly a bed of roses once we choose to enter a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Life will still have it’s troubles.  There will still be times of pain and anguish and hardship.  But we do not face these alone.  Jesus walks with us through the troubles and trials, bringing us peace and comfort and strength.

Our passage today ends with “your statutes… are the joy of my heart”.  We find the same joy when we choose to allow Jesus’ ways to be our rule for life.  The Law of the Old Testament and the psalmist has been renewed and refreshed by Jesus and the new commandments.  We too must match the psalmist’s commitment to his faith – to live out each and every day as a follower of Jesus Christ – bringing honor and glory to God in all we do and say.  May it be so!


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Eyes of the Heart

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23

Verse 18: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…

Paul paints a glorious picture of Jesus Christ in heaven.  He is seated at God’s right hand, far above all earthly rule and authority.  He reigns over all things and is the head of the church – His body.  All the titles that can be given belong to Jesus: Lord, King, Messiah, Master.  It is a far cry from the Jesus who came to earth and was born in a lowly manger.  It is far different company around the throne than He was used to living with in His time on earth – fishermen, shepherds, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers…  The image of Jesus on the throne in Royal splendor is a far different image than Jesus hanging on the cross.  Yet Jesus needed to be all that He was on earth so that He would be who He is in heaven.

Paul writes, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”.  Experiencing humanity in all its glory and in all it’s gory details gave Jesus eyes to see us for who we are.  Sometimes it is ugly, but it is the truth.  And He still loves us as we are.  He always did when He was here and always will in heaven.  But Paul is praying here for the believers in Ephesus.  It is also a prayer for us.  To have eyes that see as Jesus sees – eyes of the heart – we must be as Jesus was.  We must go among the orphan and widow and sick and outcast.  We must reach out to visit and care for and feed and minister to all who are lost and broken.  When we do as Jesus did – loving all – then we develop “eyes of the heart”.

This day may we go where Jesus would go and love as Jesus loved.  Blessings on your journey to the least and the lost.


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Human Yet All-Powerful

Reading: John 11: 1-45

Verses 25a and 26 – I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

Today’s passage reveals many aspects of who Jesus is.  In each stage of the story, our understanding of Jesus deepens.

In the beginning of the story, we see a Jesus who is intimately connected to human beings.  He did not just dwell here but was connected in human relationships as well.  He is in ministry doing God’s will far away yet these two sisters send for Jesus to come attend to a personal need – their brother and one of Jesus’ close friends is very sick.  These ladies are good friends of Jesus and think nothing of asking Him to drop whatever He is doing to respond to their plea for help.  This connection is again reinforced in verses 35 and 36, where Jesus weeps and those there note how He loved these friends.  Jesus was intimately connected to His good personal friends.

What happens next may at first appear to contradict this.  Jesus does not go right to Bethany.  He stays where He is.  He even reveals after two days that now they can go because Lazarus has died.  Jesus plainly tells the disciples that Lazarus had to die so that all can see Jesus’ glory and can come to believe.  Jesus is acutely aware of the end game.  It must have been hard for the human side of Jesus to allow the grief and pain to come upon His dear friends.  After all, He could have healed Lazarus from afar, from right where He was.  Yet Jesus knew God’s plan and was obedient to it.  Jesus knew that in the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, God’s glory would be revealed and the faith of many would be strengthened and others would come to believe too.  In case this part of the story, we see how Jesus sometimes allows those He loves to walk through the valleys for the purposes of strengthening one’s faith or to help one find faith.  He loves us that much.

As the story unfolds, we see the Jesus who can do anything.  He raises Lazarus from the grave even though he has been dead for four days.  He tells Martha (and us) why: “I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die”.  He is this for us too.  As our journey of faith unfolds, Jesus comes to live more and more in our hearts as our belief in Him grows.  Our human yet all-powerful friend, Jesus, leads us to eternal life as well.  For this great gift of God that we have in Jesus, we say thanks be to God!