pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Grabbed

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-9

Verse Seven: Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Saul had a really good life.  His religious life checked off all the boxes: circumcised as an infant, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, great zeal for his religion, a faultless follower of the Law.  To Saul, he was as faithful to God as anyone.  From his perspective on top of the pedestal, he looked pretty good.

But then Saul met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.  He went through a powerful transformation experience.  The new Christian, Paul, writes, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Jesus Christ”.  All the titles, all the accolades, the view from the pedestal – they all are lost.  In the next verse Paul calls all these things “rubbish”.  For Paul, they are pale and worthless compared to the “surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”.  What a change has been wrought in Paul!

At times, some look at faith as Saul did – a series of rules to follow or boxes to check.  Baptized as a baby, came back to church for a dose of confirmation, returned maybe for graduation or to get married.  For others it is a bit deeper – come most Sunday mornings for the hour, say a short grace before meals, help out at the yearly ham dinner.  On the surface, their religion feels okay, maybe even good.  It would appear the requisite boxes were being checked off.

When Saul met Jesus, his life radically changed.  It wasn’t about saying that memorized prayer three times a day and eating only the “right” foods any more.  It wasn’t about coming that one hour on Sunday morning.   To Paul, the boxes were rote, they were false.  He gave up all “that I may gain Christ and be found in Him”.  Paul found a righteousness that comes not from the Law or anything he could do, but a righteousness that comes “from God and is by faith”.  Jesus reached out and grabbed Paul.  Life was never the same.

Has Jesus grabbed you?  Is self and all else loss for the sake of Christ?

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Imperfectly in Perfect

Reading: Psalm 19

Verses 7 and 12: The Law of the Lord is perfect… forgive my hidden faults.

Our Psalm for today begins by recognizing how the natural world shines forth God.  When one looks to the sky at night, one gains a sense of the vastness and power of God.  As the sun moves across the sky, we can sense God’s perfect plan at work.  The earth was placed at exactly the right distance from the sun – much closer or further and we could not have life on our planet.  The sun is described as a bridegroom bringing light and heat to all.  This is much like the Son who brings light and love to all.

In verse seven, the psalmist begins comparing God’s beautiful and perfect creation to God’s Law.  He writes, “the Law of the Lord is perfect”, trustworthy, right, and radiant.  The psslmists says the Law revives the soul, makes wise the simple, gives joy to the heart and light to the eyes.  These ordinances of God are “sure” and “righteous” and are “sweeter than honey”.  Reading all these descriptives the Law is much like the perfection and beauty of nature.  It is a wonderful thing to keep and a great place to be.  Verse eleven summarizes this: “By them is your servant warned, in keeping them there is great reward”.  All who walk daily with the Lord know this is true.

Even though we live in the beauty and wonder of God’s creation and even though we know the law and have Jesus’ example, there are times when we choose to walk outside of God’s law and love.  There are times we sin.  In verse twelve we read, “forgive my hidden faults”.  The next verse seeks protection from “willful sins”.  Within the perfection of creation and beside God’s perfect law reside us humans.  Just as the psalmist does, so too must we recognize our absolute need for God’s grace and forgiveness.  Out of His perfect love God brought us Jesus Christ, so that through His perfect love we could be redeemed.  Each day may we choose to stand upon our Rock, seeking God as we dwell imperfectly in His perfect love.


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#1 Tradition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 18: The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.

Every year for Christmas my family gathers after church on Christmas Eve and we open one present.  The present is always the same: new pajamas.  For Thanksgiving every year we always have green bean casserole and chocolate chess pie.  It feels like we have been doing these things forever.

Our churches also have traditions.  Most churches do.  In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing one of these traditions.  It began like many of our church traditions did and has become almost law by this point.  One day long ago someone started something and soon enough it became tradition.  For the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing, these traditions were very important.  Many of their traditions or laws were based on generations of interpretations of the Bible.  Much of it therefore had come not necessarily straight from God but from man’s interpretation of the Word.  A good, modern day example would be baptism.  In the Bible we do have some examples of baptisms and some understandings of what it means and why one is baptized.  But there is no place in the Bible where it defines exactly how and when a baptism should occur.  Yet this topic causes division and differences and barriers between us.  The same can be said of communion.  I think this makes Jesus sad.

In today’s passage Jesus is dealing with a rule that creates a barrier.  Many of the religious traditions or laws created barriers to people because they kept people away from God.  Ritualistic and detailed handwashing became the rule for the Pharisees.  Eat without perfectly pristine hands and you know what happens…  But Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean'”.  He is saying that what is in a person’s heart is what makes them spiritually clean or unclean, not the condition of their hands.  If evil resides in our hearts, then we are unclean spiritually.  If good resides, then we are clean.  To Jesus, a person’s heart is what mattered.

Jesus’ most important question is: “Do you love me”?  For Jesus love was always the guide and the first consideration.  That’s why He ate with unclean sinners and why he healed on the Sabbath.  Love triumphed.  Faith is not about the tradition or the laws or the unwritten rules.  It is about letting love lead and serving and ministering to others in love.

What traditions or ‘rules’ create barriers in our churches?  How do we make love the #1 tradition or the rule?


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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!