pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love, Forgiveness

Reading: Psal 99

Verse Eight: O Lord our God, you answered them; you are a forgiving God.

God is, above all else, a God of love.  More than anything else, God is about loving His children.  The Psalm opens with God being exulted because He reigns.  The people offer their praise.  Then it shifts to God bringing justice and equality.  The people offer their praise.  In verse six three greats go to God and He answers the prayers of the faithful.  The people offer praise.  This is a God of love.  Truly God is worthy of our praise and worship.

All this is true of God today.  The Lord our God answers our prayers.  God continues to seek justice and equality for all peoples.  God continues to be in control of all things and to reign over all the earth.  He is worthy of our praise and worship.

But perhaps the greatest example of God’s love is His forgiveness.  We experience a glimpse of this kind of love from our parents and then again with our own children.  But ours is a slightly flawed, human love.  God’s love is a perfect, holy love.  Verse eight reads, “O Lord our God, you answered them; you are a forgiving God”.  Because of His love for us, He forgives us.  Over and over, without memory or score.  Over and over it is as if we had never sinned before.  This truly is a God of love.  He is worthy of our praise and worship.

The love and forgiveness we receive from God is wonderful.  But it cannot end with us simply receiving it.  We in turn must go out and love and forgive others.  Because we are loved, we love others.  Because we are forgiven, we forgive others.  It is through our practicing love and forgiveness that we are part of bringing God’s love and forgiveness into other people’s lives.  It is a part of our witness to our faith.  This day may we be people of love and forgiveness, helping to build up relationships with others that further the kingdom of God here on earth.

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Invitation

Reading: Matthew 22: 1-14

Verse Nine: Go to the streets and invite to the banquet anyone you find.

Today’s parable is symbolic of God’s continuing invitation to all of humanity to come into the kingdom of God.  The original invitation began with God’s chosen people, but most rejected the invite – they did not see Jesus as the Messiah.  Still God invited them.  They abused and killed many who God sent to invite them – even killing the Son.  So God sent others out, saying, “Go to the streets and invite to the banquet anyone you find”.  In the Good News translation the Great Commission from Matthew 28 reads, “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere”, mirroring the invitation to all.  In God’s great patience, He will continue and continue to invite all into the kingdom.  Today, tomorrow, and on into the future God will continue to send out invitations to all who are lost.

The parable goes on to say that the good and the bad respond to the invitation, filling the banquet hall.  There are some who hear the invitation and come to see what it is all about.  Some come because a friend or family member received the invitation and they are going.  They come and they sit in the pew.  But they do not take the next step.  They do not become a part of the kingdom.  In the parable, the king comes to look over the guests.  He notices a man not wearing the right clothes.  The man did not fully accept the invitation.  He came to the banquet, but on his terms.  He remains stubbornly silent.  He is cast out into darkness.

This same idea occurs elsewhere in scripture.  In the parable of the sheep and the goats, for example, the goats are left wondering why they are cast out.  They knew who Jesus was and even did a few things He asked, but they did not choose to enter a saving personal relationship that changed their lives.  Today, many know who Jesus is, but they cling to their old self.  They appear to be at the banquet, but inside they are the ones in control, not Jesus.

To be a follower requires that we put off the old self and take on the new robe of righteousness.  We must not only accept the invitation, but we must allow it to reshaped us into the image of Christ.  We must die to self so that Christ can rule on the throne of our hearts.  Yet even then God continues to send us invitations.  He invites us to go out and live our lives as the salt and light the world so desperately needs.  He invites us to go out to the street corners and to invite everyone we see, helping them into the kingdom.  How will we do this today?


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Kingdom Fruit

Reading: Matthew 21: 42-46

Verse 42: The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Jesus transitions quickly from the parable of the tenants to today’s passage.  We recall that in this parable Jesus revealed that God is true owner of all and we are simply tenants.  In today’s passage, Jesus opens with a quote from Psalm 118. But before the quote, Jesus says to the chief priests and Pharisees, “Have you never read in the scriptures…”?  He transitions from God and the kingdom to claiming His own place in it.  He is proclaiming this role as He quotes from Psalm 118, saying, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.  Jesus’ implication is that the chief priests and Pharisees are rejecting Him but that He will still become the cornerstone of the church.

Yes, Jesus is giving it to the chief priests and Pharisees and many of us relish these scenes.  But, we must also evaluate our own faith and see where we place Jesus in our lives.  Is Jesus the cornerstone – that upon which all else stands?  Or is He in a room that we go to just in our times of need or want?  Is He the first and last consideration in all the decisions we make, in all of our words and actions?  Jesus wants to be our cornerstone.  Is that where He is in our lives?  If so, we will see kingdom fruit producing a deeper faith within us as well as the fruit that comes from sharing the good news with others.

The chief priests and Pharisees are not producing fruit.  More than anything, Jesus sees them and all of their man-made rules as barriers to people connecting with God.  He blatantly tells them, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce fruit”.  Ouch.

Are we people who are producing fruit?  To produce fruit, our words and actions must always draw people to Christ.  To produce fruit, we must be humble servants, allowing others to see the example set by Jesus as the way of life that we are all called to follow.  To produce fruit, our love must be Jesus’ love – a live for one and all that places self last.  In all we think and do and say, may we love God first and neighbor second.  Then we will produce much kingdom fruit.


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All in All

Reading: Philippians 3: 10-14

Verse 12: I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

There is great power in today’s passage.  There is great hope.  There is great promise.  There is great encouragement.  Pail is fully rooted in Christ and in His love.  He has given his all for the gospel and is willing to suffer and even give his life if that will advance the gospel and bring glory to God.  Paul opens today with a clarion call for all believers: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection”.  Like Paul, we also want to know these two things.  We want to know Christ for this earthly life so that we can love and serve others as Jesus did.  We want to know the power of His resurrection for this life and the life to come.  In this life, the power of Jesus’ resurrection brings us victory over sin.  Jesus’ resurrection power defeats the guilt and shame and chains of sin so that we can be made holy and pure in this life.  It is a power we call on again and again.  Jesus’ resurrection power also looks to the future – His resurrection power enables us to defeat death and to live eternally with Jesus in heaven.

Knowing all of this is what allowed Paul to be sold out for Jesus and the gospel.  It is what allows us to have the faith and the courage to live as sold out, all in Christians.  If we believe in the power of Jesus Christ and His resurrection, we too can live as Paul did: willing to do anything and willing to face anything to advance the kingdom here on earth.  This is what Paul is talking about when he writes, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.  Christ took hold of Paul to give him a hope, a love, a promise, a future.  Paul did not take hold of all this and sit on it to keep ut for himself.  He gave his all and eventually his life so others would gain it too.

Paul concludes today with these words: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.  Hear these words – straining ahead, pressing on, the prize, called, in Christ Jesus.  Paul’s life reflected the fact that Jesus Christ was his all in all.  May our lives and faith reflect this as well, all for God’s glory and the building of His kingdom here on earth.


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Which Son?

Reading: Matthew 21: 28-32

Verse 28: Son, go and work today in the vineyard.

The priests and elders have just tried to question Jesus about His authority.  In today’s parable Jesus continues the conversation with them.  One son is asked by his father, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard”.  The first son refuses but later goes and works.  The second son hears the same request, says he will go, but does not go and work in the vineyard.

In Luke 10, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”.  Paired with our commission to go forth to make disciples of all nations, we have much to wrestle with in today’s parable.  Which son are we?

Each Sunday we gather in our churches to lift our voices in praise to God and to remind ourselves of how we are to live in the world as followers of Jesus.  We hear the Word proclaimed and the message brings application of the Word.  We offer up prayers of thanksgiving and we bring our requests as well, believing God to be loving and caring and merciful.  At the end of the service we receive a blessing or benediction that sends us out into the world to share Jesus.  We head out the doors to be His light and love in the world.

Jesus asks the priests and elders, “Which of the two sons did what his father wanted”?  We would answer as they did: “The first”.  The one who actually went out and worked in the vineyard.  It is important that he went out and worked in the vineyard because the harvest is indeed plentiful.

As Christians it is much easier to sing the songs, to pray the prayers, and to receive the message on Sunday morning than it is to go out into the world and to love our neighbors or to welcome the stranger.  It is difficult to love all people, to always offer grace and forgiveness, to be a humble servant.  Yet this is what the Lord of the harvest did every day.  The Father asks each of us to go to the vineyard, to labor today for the kingdom.  In reality, which son will you be today?


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Abundant Grace

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse Eight: Call the workers and pay them their wages.

In the parable today the going wage is a denarius.  It was the standard pay for a day’s labor.  For the vineyard workers, four of the five groups received generous pay.  They had worked three, six, nine, or eleven hours less then the first ones hired.  All four of these groups walk away happy with their pay.

The fifth group – those who agreed to a denarius and those who worked the longest – receive the same pay.  In a way this too is generous.  They began the day with nothing to do and were fortunate to be hired.  But what they agreed to does not sit so well with them.  As each group of workers receives their denarius, their unhappiness grows as they come to realize all are being paid the same.  In complaining to the owner, they voice their grumbling relative to the ones who worked only an hour.  They speak of the ones who best ‘prove’ their case.  Yet I think they did not think the groups who worked three, six, or nine hours deserved a denarius either.

God’s grace extends to all who labor for the kingdom of God.  There is no minimum time required before one can begin to draw on grace.  There is no cosmic scorecard somewhere in heaven that determines how much grace each person is allotted or tracks how much we have earned.  We are each given as much as we need.  We are each given the undeserved and unlimited gift of grace anytime we need it.

Our churches are filled with people from all five groups.  Some have just begun to draw on God’s grace.  Others have been living in His grace for 10, 30, or 40 years.  Still others have been living in God’s grace for as long as they can remember.  Many of these receive grace like most of the vineyard workers.  They receive more than they deserve and walk away grateful for the owner’s generosity.  May we each respond to God’s grace the same way, realizing we are receiving more than we deserve, walking away grateful for God’s abundant Grace in our lives.


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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.