pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Led by Compassion

Reading: Luke 10: 29-37

Verse 36: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers”?

Traditions and stereotypes are great influencers. They are a part of life. Growing up we inherit and learn about the world and people around us from our parents and families. Systems and institutions also influence us as we begin to go to school… These influencers can be good and they can be bad. We can learn to be compassionate and generous, to be honest, to work hard, to be a person of faith. We can learn to be selfish, to take advantage of others, to be prejudiced and biased.

In this familiar parable, the priest and Levite both pass by on the other side of the road. Depending on the influencers that we grew up with, their action can be seen poorly or as acceptable. These two men are also products of the families, groups, and institutions that they grew up in. Most certainly they too felt compassion for the man. Who wouldn’t? But the stronger force was the years and years of training and teaching that said to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean. It would break a law. Life for them was all about their position and living within the guidelines of the law.

I too have been guilty of passing by someone I could have helped. The “law” of ‘don’t be late for work’ has led me to pass by on more than one occasion. The “law” of ‘you have something more important to do, someone else will stop’ has also led me to pass by. Stereotypes and being judgmental have also led me to pass by at times. This parable is so hard because we’ve all walked many times in the shoes of the priest and Levite.

We do not know much about the Samaritan. We do not know if he was rich or poor. We do not know if he was a Godly man or if he worshipped idols. What we do know is that he allowed the compassion that all of us would have felt to become what drove his decisions and actions. He invested both time and money in caring for the one in need. We do not know much about the Samaritan, but we do know that if we were in Jesus’ story, we sure hope we’d stop too. It is a matter of choice. The lawyer knew who the neighbor was. So do we. Jesus encourages the lawyer to “go and do likewise”. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord, you call me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. Fill me with compassion for those in need. Lead me to stop and care for those I meet today. Amen.

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A Plumb Line

Reading: Amos 7: 7-9

Verse 8: “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”.

God has called Amos out of the field to be a prophet to his people. The people have been living in ways that are displeasing to God. The king has led the people astray and the priest has followed along. The king and priest and the people are comfortable, even happy, in the lifestyle that they have settled into. The practices of caring for the other – the widows, orphans, needy… – have all been laid aside. Amos has been sent to pronounce judgment.

Today’s passage begins with God standing by a wall that has been built perfectly true. The wall and it’s perfection represent the law. The law is what is just and true and right. God stands by his wall. He asks Amos what he sees. Amos is still faithful to God and to the law. He sees a plumb line showing the wall to be true. God says to Amos, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”. Amos is the plumb line. It is his voice that will try to call the people back to right and holy living. God will not spare them. Their hearts have become hard because they have come to love other things. Destruction and ruin will come. The voice of the prophet is not enough to fix all that is wrong.

In our world and perhaps in our lives we find much that is askew and wrong. For a long time the world has preached power and wealth and popularity. These things have been emphasized so long that they are the norm and they are embraced. To say that accumulating excessive wealth is wrong is looked at as abnormal today. The world sees self as #1 so to encourage people to care deeply for the needy draws odd looks. Amos’ world and our world are pretty similar.

In our world and in our lives, where is God calling us to apply the plumb line? Where can we make things align better with God and his plans?

Prayer: Lord, help me to search deeply within, to search for what needs to be set right. Give me the courage to change what needs changed. Go with me, O God. Amen.


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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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Way of Love

Reading: Galatians 3: 23-29

Verse 26: “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”.

Paul grew up as a strict adherent to the law. His life was all about knowing the law and about living by the holy guidance of the law. But on one of his journeys to arrest more followers of Jesus, Paul encountered the living and resurrected Jesus. Paul came to a new understanding of faith. He no longer saw the law as the thing that defined or gave you faith. Instead Paul came to know Jesus as the source of faith and hope and life. Paul found his identity in Christ alone and he went to work to help all know this same reality. In verse 26 we read, “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”. He goes on with a list – no Jew or Greek, no slave or free… – that really defines how God sees no limits. We are all children of God.

For Paul then, it also meant that through faith in Christ we are all connected to the promises found throughout the Bible. Because of this connection, Paul sees no division and sees a faith that is big enough to offer all the way to eternal life. This faith brings a freedom too. We no longer live under the law but instead live within a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Through this relationship we seek to follow or emulate Jesus. We will not be perfect as Jesus was perfect but we do strive towards his example of perfect love. Our love will fail at times but because we are clothed in Christ, he will always lead and guide us to love better. Things like fear or the concerns for worldly things like wealth and status and titles… can inhibit our love, but Christ within is always at work to help us love more. When we root our identity in Christ alone, then the way of faith is the way of love. May it be so this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord of all, be my all in all. Root me firmly in Jesus Christ alone. Water my roots with the Word and nourish my soul by your Spirit. Shape me with your hands and mold me to be more and more like your son. Be my all in all Lord God. Amen.


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The Way

Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Verse 9: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”.

Peter, like almost 100% of the early church leaders, is a Jewish Christian. Yes, they are Christians first, but their Jewish upbringing is still a big part of their faith. All of the dietary laws, the rite of circumcision, the Sabbath observation… are keys to the new Christian faith. To become a believer and to be baptized into the Holy Spirit one must become a proselyte – in essence, a believer in training. One must prove their faith over a period of time by following all of the rules and only then could you become a baptized believer. The church has not existed for very long and they already have a set method to join! The idea of having a clear process to follow and a defined set of rules to obey sounds very much like another establishment of the day.

Our passage today opens with the aftermath of Peter going to Caesarea. The other leaders of the church in Jerusalem say to Peter, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them”. You broke rule 19.a.2 and rule 27.f.4. How could you. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” in what we read in Luke 15:2. The Pharisees make this statement just before Jesus tells the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. You might recall each parable ends with a celebration when the lost are found.

In our passage today, Peter uses some of the rules to establish why he broke the rules. First, he was praying. Second, God brought him a vision. Third, God explained the vision to Peter. Not once but three times. Peter even shares that he protested what God was instructing him to do, saying to God, ‘I have never broken rule 4.e.3’. God responds by saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”. Rule 4.e.3 had been revoked. Peter then goes on to tell the story of what happened in Caesarea.

This passage leads to the question: what rules or traditions or unwritten codes are we hanging onto that are preventing unbelievers from becoming believers? Yes, change is hard. What new understanding might God be bringing to Christianity today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes that I may see. Holy Spirit, speak into my life and my heart, illumining the way you would have me go. Amen.


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Straining, Straining, Straining

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-14

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

Paul opens this section of Philippians with a long list of his accomplishments in his “past life”. At times we can do this. The “back in the good old days” stories can be fun to relive or they can be good reminders of what or who we used to be. For Paul, they are the latter. Before knowing Jesus, Paul was known as Saul. Saul was a very devout rule follower. Saul checked all the boxes of obedience to religion and was very respected among other rule followers. Saul and his fellow religious folks knew the Law inside out but did not follow the Law-giver. They had tons of head knowledge with no heart change.

Then Saul met Jesus one day and had a radical change of heart. In an instant he knew all of those past accomplishments we’re “rubbish”. He came to understand that righteousness comes not from following the letter of the Law – from checking off the boxes – but from faith in Christ alone. Saul took the Gentile-based version of his name and, as Paul, set about introducing as many people to Jesus as he possibly could. Knowing Christ and helping others to know Christ became Paul’s only goal, no matter the cost. He writes the letter we read from today while he is in prison. Where he is does not matter to Paul. His focus remains the same. Even as Paul sits in chains he writes, “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. Yes, his freedom has been taken, he is barred from speaking in the square and the synagogue, but Paul still writes to encourage the church in Philippi and churches ever since. His words are of great encouragement today.

Paul’s words can become our words. In verse 13 he speaks of “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”. I love his choice of “straining”! In spite of opposition or trial or suffering or cost, with all that he is Paul is giving everything he has to spread Jesus’ name so that all can know the good news. Paul strains for the same reason we should strain: the goal, the prize “for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”. May we keep our focus on the goal too, straining ahead, straining to share Jesus Christ with as many as we can.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to strain more often. Push me a bit more out of my safe, comfortable places. Amen.


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Heart, Mind, and Soul

Reading: Romans 10: 8b-13

Verse 9: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”.

Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome longing to visit Rome. It is a trip that he will eventually make. But for this present letter, he is writing to help them understand the core of the faith and how to live as a community of believers in a pagan world. As chapter ten opens Paul is explaining that one cannot live a Christian life simply by obeying the Law. The law is only a knowledge of what is right or wrong. Following the rules is good, but this alone does not make one righteous. In verse 8 Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 30. He reminds the Romans that the word of God is in their hearts and in their mouths. In this chapter Moses is encouraging the people to “choose life” – to love God and to walk in His ways. For Moses it is the same as for Paul: live out your faith in love. Allow God to dwell in your heart, in your mind, and in your soul. Yes, follow the law, but even more than that, let God’s love flow from all you do and say and think. Allow God’s love to be the core of who you are.

Paul then goes on to the next step in verse 9. In our hearts we believe. Then our voice joins in, professing faith in Christ. In this verse Paul shares the essence of the gospel, writing, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”. To confess this with our mouth, we must believe it in our heart. We cannot know that Jesus is Lord, we must believe that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the Lord in our lives because we believe that He is the Lord over sin and death.

Jesus defeated the two greatest weapons that the world has when He went to the cross and when He walked out of the grave. Sin has no power over us because Jesus has already paid the price for atonement. Yes, we do sin but because the price has been paid, because the sacrifice was given. When we confess and repent, Jesus says, ‘You are forgiven’. We move forward as a new creation in Christ, holy and pure, leaving behind any guilt or shame. Jesus also defeated the power of death. There is no fear or unknown or thinking this is the end. Jesus said because He lives, we too shall live. If we put our faith in Jesus as Lord, then He is the way to eternal life. We are saved when we profess, “Jesus is Lord”!

This day and each day, may Christ dwell in our heart and in our mouth and in our soul. May all we see, think, do, say, and feel reflect the love of Christ that is in us. In doing so, we proclaim Jesus is Lord with all of our heart, mind, and soul. May it be so.

Prayer: God of all of creation, be my all in all. This day and every day fill me with your love so that my life is that love lived out. Fill me so much that this is all there is in me. May I be fully yours. Amen.