pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Way, Truth, Life

Reading: Matthew 22: 15-22

Verse 16: You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.

As the religious leaders begin their attempt to trap Jesus, they begin with words probably intended to lure Him into their question.  While this may be their intent, the words they speak are full of truth.  They begin by recognizing Jesus as a man of integrity.  They have learned the hard way that Jesus always does what is right, even if it is unpopular, even if it is hard, even if it angers people.  The healings on the Sabbath and the challenging words that caused some followers to walk away are the best examples that testify to the integrity of Jesus.

Then they say to Jesus, “You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth”.  Ever since He was a young adolescent in the temple courts, where Jesus amazed those around Him, Jesus has always spoken for God and has always had solid truths at the core of His teachings on the scriptures and in all of His parables.  Jesus’ connection to God is undeniable.  He always speaks truth, even when it is a hard truth.  They end their small talk by saying that Jesus is not swayed by men because He pays no attention to who they are.

The religious leaders then try and trap Jesus using a question that pertains to the secular world: paying taxes.  His response reinforces all three things that they have said about Him.  In saying to pay to Caesar what is his, Jesus is a man of integrity, saying to follow the ruler’s laws.  In saying to give to God what is His, He is saying to follow the Law of Moses.  In His answer Jesus shows no partiality.  At His answer there is nothing more to be said.  They simply walk away amazed.

Is this how we as Christians also see and experience Jesus?  Do we honor His teachings as filled with God’s ways?  Do we believe in the truth that Jesus reveals?  After each encounter, do we walk away amazing, knowing that He is the only source of true life?  Yes, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  This is Jesus’ offer to one and all.  The invitation goes out to all.  Praise be to God.

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Overflow

Reading: Philippians 1: 21-26

Verses 21 and 23: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain… I am torn between the two!

Paul writes today from a Roman prison cell.  Death looms in the air.  The executioners could come at any moment.  Yet even in this place Paul is full of hope.  He has come to a place in his life where his faith is absolutely secure.  He is assured that if this day were his last that he would depart and be with Jesus – “which is far better”.  This is what Paul means when he says, “to die is gain”.

But Paul also feels this pull to living.  He feels a pull to live so that he can continue in his ministry.  He knows that if he “stays in the body” that he will continue to have fruitful labor.  His work will continue to be about bringing people to Christ and about helping people to grow in their faith.  This is what he means by “to live is Christ”.  He also acknowledges another “better” – it is better for the church in Philippi if he continues to live so that he can continue on with them on their faith journey.

Although Paul is “torn between the two”, there are some lessons in his circumstance and attitude for us.  First, his focus is on others.  It would be far better to be with Jesus in heaven.  Many people today feel this way.  But like Paul they know God has more in store for them.  Paul loves Jesus and the church more than himself so he joyfully remains.  Second, he finds joy in the suffering.  Paul is living into the idea of being worthy to suffer for Christ.  He has stood firm in the faith and gladly faces the consequences for doing so.  And lastly, Paul is reflecting Christ.  His desire and will to serve others regardless of the cost to self models Christ’s example to others.  Just as Paul has chosen to closely follow Christ, his example here beckons us to do the same.  In all we do and say each day, may we strive to allow our “joy in Jesus Christ” to overflow into the lives of all we meet.  May it be so.


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Child of God

Reading: Romans 12: 17b-21

Verse 17b: Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

In today’s passage Paul encourages us to live a holy life.  The model that he looked to was Jesus and that is the model we are called to emulate as well.  So let us remember how Jesus lived a holy life – He served all He could, He fed and healed and forgave whenever the opportunity arose, He had time for one and all, and love guided all of His words and actions.  This is our goal as Christians: to live Christ-like lives.

Paul begins today’s passage with these words: “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”.  To do right according to everybody means we strive to not offend or to be a stumbling block to anyone.  He goes on to encourage us to “live at peace with everyone”.  To do this means we avoid things that cause conflict.  That means we do not judge or condemn others, we do not gossip or slander others, we do not take advantage of others, we do not envy or covet…  Instead we are called to lead with love and grace and mercy.

Paul next addresses a natural tendency we have: do not take revenge.  He knows that at times we will be wronged or hurt or taken advantage of.  Paul says to let God deal with that.  “On the contrary” Paul says – feed your enemy if they are hungry and give them something to drink if they are thirsty.  We just need to keep pursuing holy lives.  In doing so we will “overcome evil with good”.

Paul’s invitation to holy living is not without its challenges.  It requires that we look past race, gender, economic status, sexuality, culture, religion, and any other thing that could be a barrier to loving the other.  To do so can be difficult.  So we must begin where Jesus began, seeing every person as they are: a dearly loved child of God made in the image of God.  When we first see God in others, then it is a natural next step to love and serve them as Jesus did.

All people are dearly loved children of God.  May we see each we meet this day as the loved child of God that they are.  And may we seek to love them with all we are.


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Seven Years

Reading: Genesis 29: 15-28

Verse 20: Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

Jacob came to work for Laban after fleeing from home.  Jacob was his sister’s son, so Laban took him in.  After a month, Laban was coming to appreciate Jacob’s work, so he asks Jacob what he would like in exchange for his efforts.  Jacob has fallen in love with the beautiful Rachel so he names her as his desire and offers to work for seven years for her hand in marriage.  As I think about his offer, it seems like a long time.  Rarely does a dating relationship last longer than a few years unless marriage is the plan.  In such cases, people date for a while, consider and talk of marriage, and then set the date.  For most with marriage on the mind, they will cut it off and move on pretty quickly if the other is not “the one”.

Extending the idea of working for seven years, what would one be willing to work for for seven years?  If I had my mind on a new car, for example, would I be willing to work for seven years, saving a little each month, until I had enough money to buy that car?  In a job, would I be willing to work for seven years to make that next step up the chain of command or to earn that first raise?  Yet in the context of today’s story, these things are small targets or goals.  When our thoughts move outside the concrete, there are many things we work much longer than seven years for.  When we do so, these are the things that really matter in life.

I look at my marriage and see something that I am still willing to work hard for.  I look at my college-age and post-college children and see many years of raising them and am still very dedicated to working at raising them.  And then I turn to my faith.  At 51, this is a journey longer than any other in my life, yet I still continue to seek to draw closer to God.  Looking back, I can see how my relationship has grown and deepened.  Seven years seems like a small blip on the timeline.  In this sense, I can relate to Jacob.  Seven years “seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her”.  May our love for God ever be the same.


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Choice

Reading: Romans 8: 1-11

Verse Six: The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

Why do people choose to follow Jesus?  Why do some folks choose to worship God and live their lives by what is written in the Bible?  Why do some folks choose a path in life that is hard and narrow instead of walking a road that is wide and easy to meander down?  Why do some people make these choices in deciding to be a Christian?  Why do you?

Choosing to follow Jesus and to live according to His example is a choice.  In many ways, it is a choice that runs against the norm.  By nature we are wired to seek pleasure and to desire to feel good.  Our society ingrains in us the drive to succeed and accomplish and excel – all good things in and of themselves.  Our culture champions messages like ‘just do it’ and ‘of’ it makes you feel good…’  Put all together, the world says to live for self and to just enjoy life to the max.  For some, this is their choice and this is how they live their lives.  Paul writes of these folks: “The mind of the sinful man is death”.

When one chooses to walk the wide and easy way that leads to death, life is fun and exciting and entertaining most of the time.  But soon one realizes there is something missing.  One senses that there is more to life than what they are living.  There is a void.  Philosopher Blaise Pascal described this as the “God-shaped hole in all of us”.  We are created by God in His image.  Therefore, God has a place to fill in our lives.  When we make the choice to fill the hole with God, we are choosing to be whole and complete.  We are making the choice to be a Christian.  Paul also writes of this choice: “The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace”.

We make the choice to follow Christ.  It is through this choice that we find life eternal and peace beyond all human understanding.  Here we find that Jesus is our all in all, our everything.  Thank you Jesus.


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Life in the Spirit

Reading: Romans 8: 1-11

Verse Two: Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

Paul opens our passage today with a strong statement: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ”.  This is a central theme of the gospel message.  Jesus took on the sin of the world and triumphed over it as He rose from the grave and ascended to heaven.  Through the sacrifice of His body and blood we are forgiven and made righteous.  We no longer have to live with sin and guilt and shame.  Through Jesus’ loving act on the cross we are freed from all of this.  In grace we are made new and restored to righteousness.  Paul writes of this in verse two: “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”.  We are set free as well!

For most of the passage, Paul focuses on sin versus righteousness.  Paul argues that the sinful man focuses on the desires of the flesh and is self-centered and is hostile to God.  The sinful man leads a life that ends in death.  Paul contrasts this with the man who lives led by the Spirit.  The Spirit led man focuses on the desires of God and is Good-centered and tries to please God.  The Spirit led man lives a life of peace that leads to eternal life.  The key to which life one leads is determined by whether or not Jesus is in one’s life.  Paul argues that if Christ is in us, then we will lead a life that is led by the Spirit.

Paul is, of course, writing here of the big picture.  Either we are trying to live by the Spirit or we are trying to live by the flesh.  The deciding factor is professing Jesus as Lord of our life.  Once we make this decision it does not mean that we will never sin again.  It means that our focus is on living a righteous life that is pleasing to God.  Life in the Spirit means that the Holy Spirit will guide and lead and convict us, making our battle with sin more often victorious.  The good news is that when we do slip and sin, there is no condemnation because Christ had already defeated sin and death.  Instead of condemnation we are given mercy and grace and forgiveness.  Through Him eternal victory is in our grasp.  For this we say thanks be to God!


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Word

Reading: Isaiah 55: 6-13

Verse 11: My Word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return empty…

Our passage today opens with a great invitation: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near”.  This is an open-ended invitation, but the writer goes on to encourage even the wicked to seek the Lord ‘for He will freely pardon’.  The invitation to be in God’s presence is open to all.  It remains so today.

Then, in verse eight, God reminds us of the difference between us and God.  God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”.  The word God uses to define the difference is “higher” – as in too big or too expansive for us to fully understand.  We love and worship a huge God.  Yet God loves little us.  That is an amazing love.

The passage then shifts to nature.  God speaks of the rain and snow that doesn’t simply fall from the sky and return to the sky.  It falls for a purpose.  It waters the earth.  In doing so the rain and snow bring forth new life and seed for the sower.  Water is an essential for all life.  Life cannot exist or continue without water.

The the Lord says that His Word is like the water.  It does not return empty to God but “will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”.  It is like water in that it nourishes our souls and brings life to us.  And life water to all life, God’s Word is essential to our spiritual life.  We must drink deeply and God will accomplish whatever He wants through us.

The end of Isaiah 55 speaks of the new life we find when we drink of God’s Word.  Verse 12 says, “you will go out in joy and be led forth in peace”.  When we dwell in the Word of God we do go out into life full of joy and resting in His peace.  As we dwell in the Lord’s Word, may we allow it to settle deep down in us to achieve and accomplish God’s purposes in our life.