pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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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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Choose Jesus

Reading: Matthew 11: 25-30

Verse 29: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… You will find rest for your souls.

Jesus invites all who are “weary and burdened” to come to Him.  In the time Jesus lived, many met these conditions.  The Romans who ruled the land extracted high taxes that was a great burden to many.  Their different gods and laws also placed a burden on the people.  Living in this kind of oppression made the people weary.  And for many, the Jewish Law added another layer.  It was burdensome and made people even more weary.  From Jesus’ perspective the Law was cumbersome and impossible to keep on one’s own.

Today many people feel weary and burdened.  The lifestyle people live brings these conditions upon them.  For some it is self-imposed and for others it is their reality.  Some in our society choose to be so busy and involved in so many things that they feel like they are always running on empty.  Others in our society feel weary and burdened because of their circumstances in life.  Some in this group work and work but feel like they never can get to a place of stability and peace.  The money never seems to cover all the bills and the choice must be made between food and electricity.  Others in this group are weary and burdened because of addictions or abusive behaviors and always feel trapped and hopeless.

Jesus called out to all the people of His day and continues to call out to us today who feel weary and burdened.  Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… You will find rest for your souls”.  He invites us to walk a different path, to live a better way.  It begins by being yoked to Jesus.  This begins by professing Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives and dedicating our life to following Him.  In doing so, we commit to learning from Jesus and the example He set.  One may wonder, why take on more?  Because Jesus will bring you rest.  He will help carry those burdens and troubles.  He will give strength and courage to face those sins and demons.  With Jesus’ yoke we find contentment and peace in our lives.  To all who are weary and burdened, choose Jesus, for “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.  Choose Jesus.


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Willing and Obedient

Reading: Romans 4: 1-5 & 13-17

Today’s passage centers around the faith of Abraham.  He obediently followed God’s call and lead in his life multiple times.  For me, the ultimate test of Abraham’s faith came up on the mountain as God instructed him to sacrifice his son.  It was the only son born to a very aged Abraham and Sarah and God was leading him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice.  Abraham’s actions demonstrated great faith and trust in God, not only in this case, but over and over again.  Because of this belief in and trust in God, “it was credited to him as righteousness”.

Paul is wrestling in today’s text with the concept of faith based upon belief and grace versus faith based upon the Law and works.  Paul argues that it is our faith that makes us righteous and he holds Abraham up as the example.  Paul argues that the Law, or following all the rules for us today, cannot make us right before God.  His logic is that we cannot possibly keep all of the Law all of the time, therefore, the Law can only ultimately bring condemnation.  Paul puts forth the idea that only when we live by faith are we made righteous because only then does grace come into play.  Only when our salvation rests solely upon God’s free gift of grace are we able to claim the promise of eternal life.

As we consider this example, we must ask ourselves: do we live a life of faith or do we try to live a life of following the rules?  In our day to day lives, do we seek God’s will and guidance or do we live a faith that entails checking off the boxes as we do this or that?  Abraham demonstrated a faith that I find hard to fathom.  Could I lead my son up the mountain knowing that God was calling me to offer him up as a sacrifice when we got to the top?  It is a faith often outside of my understanding.  Yet it is precisely the type of faith that we are called to.  It is a faith that allows God to work through us instead of us working for God.  There is a huge difference between God leading my life and me leading my life.

Lord, help me to be more open to your leading, to your guidance, to your ways.  Make me a willing and obedient servant,  work through me, great Jehovah!


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Sabbath Honor

Reading: Luke 13: 14-17

Laws are important.  Imagine for a moment living in a society that had no laws.  It is a frightening image.  In reality, all groups, societies, and cultures have laws or norms that they live by.  Even a band of thieves has some norms that govern life within that group.  Civil societies have many laws that govern behavior and establish order.  The purpose of laws is to protect us, to keep us safe, and help the community function.  And although the law is the law, there are times we see the law as optional or as flexible.  For example, we may walk across a street somewhere other than the crosswalk or we may drive a bit over the speed limit.  Other laws seem to be more absolute.  Election laws are followed precisely and none would ever condone breaking the laws against child abuse.

For the synagogue ruler in today’s reading and for other religious authorities in Jesus’ day, all of the law was absolute.  Keeping every letter of the law is what separated them from and elevated them about the rest of society.  Consequently, they held the view that if you break one letter of the law, you break the whole law.  Jesus grew up a practicing Jew.  He understood and knew the law.  He also understood that at times, as was the case today, that God’s law will at times trump man’s laws.

Jesus chooses to heal a woman on the Sabbath.  Jesus knew the laws against working on the Sabbath.  He also knew that almost everyone there had tended to the animals or the children or …  Jesus knew that the religious authorities had so defined the Sabbath through a myriad of laws that keeping all of the laws had superceded actually honoring God on the Sabbath.  They had lost sight of the day being about resting in God.  The leaders were so caught up in the laws that there was little time left to honor and worship God.  The laws had become the focus.  Lost was the renewing of the mind, body, and spirit that comes from a whole day dedicated to God.

On the Sabbath Jesus sees a women who needs mind, body, and spirit renewed.  She has been captive to her infirmity for many long years.  So Jesus frees her.  He heals her so that she can fully worship God, which she does immediately.  Instead of keeping the whole of the Sabbath law, Jesus instead chooses to honor the Sabbath by following one of God’s ultimate laws – love your neighbor.  Healing this woman was not work.  It brought honor to God.  It restored a child of God to wholeness.  May all we do this Sabbath day bring honor and glory to God.


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Salvation and Love

Reading: Galatians 6: 1-6

In Galatians Paul is writing to a church that is beginning to fracture from within.  From the outside the people are seeing the church as contradictory and unattractive.  Over the many years since this has been a frequent occurrence.  As time rolls along we just find different things to fight about while the secular world usually watches with held breath.

The Galatian church was basically arguing over membership requirements.  Those with Jewish roots were arguing that all makes must be circumcised and that the Torah Law must be followed.    To these folks one must become a good Jew before one could become a Christian.  This ‘follow all our rules so you can be just like us’ attitude is nothing new.  There was a time when women had no voice and later no leadership roles in the church.  There was a time when all of the churches were very homogeneous and races and ethnicities did not mix.

On the other end of the spectrum Paul found those who did and allowed almost anything.  Under the beliefs that God alone should judge and that God is all about love, they were living lives without any constraints.  As long as they did not harm others with their actions they thought God would forgive anything.  This approach, if taken just one step further, can have disastrous results.

Paul counseled a middle ground.  He first established that salvation comes only through the saving work of Jesus on the cross.  There is no rule we can follow and no action we can take to save ourselves.  Following all the rules and laws in the world will not save us.  Doing good act after good act all the days of our lives will not save us.  We are saved through faith in Christ alone.  Paul also balanced this with Christ’s guidelines for our life. We are to daily take up our own cross to follow Him.  We are to do the things Jesus did: love God above all else, love neighbor as self, serve all of our brothers and sisters as living sacrifices.  Paul believed that out of the saving relationship we find through Christ that we would be led to live as Christ lived.  This day may we each take up our cross and follow in Jesus’footsteps, being love lived out to our God and to all we meet.


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Witnesses and Teachers

Reading: Galatians 3: 23-29

Paul writes of the Law being put in charge to lead people to Christ.  For those living under the Law, the prophecies and teachings of the Old Testament certainly shaped Jesus, the disciples, and all the other followers of Christ who had Jewish roots.  The basic way of life of a practicing Jew as established by the Law and Old Testament is the life Jesus lived out.  After all, Jesus was God incarnate, in the flesh, so all that God is in the Old Testament is embodied by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

Many of the believers, however, were Gentiles.  They did not have the basic way of life down since birth.  It would be logical to assume that some of the basic customs such as offering hospitality to the stranger would have been practiced because they were cultural norms.  But concepts such as Sabbath, fasting, loving neighbor as self, loving your enemy, and serving only one God would have been new to many Gentile believers.  So it was necessary for the Law to be replaced by the teachings of Jesus shared by His followers.  As the church grew, people in their local communities came alongside Peter, Paul, Timothy and the other apostles to teach, mentor, correct, and witness to the people of God.

This process of learning, accepting, maturing, growing in, and defining our own faith has been continued by the generations right up to and through many of us.  Some are first generation Christians, but for each of us someone poured into us and helped us along as we grew in our faith.  For each believer we can name parents, pastors, friends, and others who guided us in the development of our faith.  In turn we have and will pass faith in Jesus Christ along to others.  Each and everyone who calls on the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior are witnesses to and teachers of the faith.  May all we do and say serve to draw all we encounter each day closer to the one true King, Jesus Christ.