pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Clean Heart

Reading: Mark 7: 14-16 & 21-23

Verses 15-16: “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”.

As far back as the beginning, God has looked at humanity differently than we look at ourselves. God chose people like Abel, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Esther, David, Mary, Peter, Paul… not because they were the most beautiful or the strongest or the most intelligent. He chose them because of the stuff on the inside – the stuff that is hard for us to see. Sometimes we struggle with this idea. Sometimes we cannot look past the outside.

All groups have rules that govern the group, their behavior, who can be a part of the group… The ritual cleansing laws were just one of many law that kept the Jews separate from the peoples around them. Identity was important. As the chosen people, standards had to be kept. When the religious leaders saw Jesus’ disciples – who were all Jews – not following the rules, they questioned Jesus about it.

In our passage today, Jesus returns to God’s practice of being concerned with what is on the inside, not on the outside. Jesus responds to the leaders by saying, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”. This makes perfect sense. But it disrupts the status quo. But it makes sense. Eating with unclean hands does not make one more or less likely to sin. Drinking coffee instead of tea does not increase or decrease one’s ability to resist temptation. In verse 17, Jesus points out that whatever we eat or drink “doesn’t go into the heart but into the stomach”. Temptation and sin reside in the heart.

Jesus goes on to share quite a list of evils that can be found in the heart. When we allow our thoughts to turn to and to dwell on theft or murder or lust or envy or arrogance or pride or… then evil will surely come out, making us ‘unclean’. The battle to remain ‘clean’ is a fight in the heart. It is a battle that we must have help in if we are to remain in a right relationship with our Lord and Savior.

This day, O Lord, give me a clean heart and a right spirit. Purge all within that is impure. May the power of the Holy Spirit be quick to convict when evil thoughts begin to arise. And may I be responsive to the conviction, repenting quickly. May I honor you, O Lord, in all I do and say and think today. Amen.


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Going Out

Reading: Acts 1: 1-11

Verse Eleven: “Why do you stand there, looking into the sky”?

The book of Acts opens with a brief recap of the forty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It reviews how Jesus offered “convincing proofs” that He was alive and it reiterates His promise to send the Holy Spirit. The disciples then ask when Jesus is returning to restore the kingdom of Israel. Yes, they are still thinking of earthly kingdoms instead of the heavenly kingdom. Again, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus is taken up into heaven and the disciples stand there staring up. Two angels appear and ask, “Why do you stand there, looking into the sky”?

The angels indicate that Jesus will come back. But the implication in the question is ‘stop staring, it is time to get to work’. There is much to be done, so let’s get busy. Much needs to be accomplished before Jesus returns, so let’s get to work. Quit standing around staring at the sky.

I wonder how often God thinks thoughts like these today. How much of our time is spent staring up at heaven instead of engaging the work that needs to be done down here? How much time do we spend each day in prayer and personal study and how little time do we devote each day to the acts of mercy that Jesus so often called His followers to?

Nothing builds itself. While it is wonderful that we Christians spend our “alone time” with God each day, we must spend at least that much time spending “face time” with the lost, least, and broken of this world. No one will come to faith and experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promises without someone first introducing that person to Jesus Christ. It is essential to go outside of our churches to find those who need a saving relationship with Jesus. They are not coming to us. We must go to them.

Each and every day may we look down and around us, seeking to be kingdom builders, going out into the world to share the light and love and hope if Jesus Christ with a world in need. Amen.


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Action

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse Eighteen: “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”.

Already in the early days of the church John was seeing a struggle between the words Christians said and claimed and the actions that they were living out. In the first chapter of 1st John, he encourages the followers of Christ to walk in the light. Walking is an active verb – John wanted them to walk in the faith or to have an active faith. He continues this encouragement in chapter two and then turns to warnings against loving the world and being led astray by false teachings. In chapter three John turns to our call as children of God and how to live righteous lives. It is within this chapter that our passage today lies.

For John and for the church today, we cannot separate the idea of being a Christian from the idea of love. The two cannot be separated. Jesus was all about loving others and that is one of Jesus’ primary directives to His followers. In most churches, we do this very well with each other. Yes, we will disagree now and then, but by and large the folks in our churches love one another well. Those John was addressing must have done this well too. The challenge comes in loving those outside the walls of our churches, those who are different, those who struggle with sin or hardships in their lives.

John was challenging the church to love those in need in a time when persecution was high. We are challenged today in a time when it is pretty safe to be a Christian. Yet we too struggle to always help those who cannot help themselves and to offer self-sacrificing love that goes out and meets people’s needs where they are at. John wrote, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”. Don’t say you love your neighbors but actually go out and love them. Don’t see injustice and do nothing about it. Don’t see the hungry without feeding them, the naked without clothing them, the lonely without visiting them…

There is much need and brokenness in our world. There is much love in our hearts. May the two meet not only in our thoughts and words but out there in the real world too. May we each be a part of making this happen today.


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Come and Follow

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Jesus was quite the radical in His day.  He called a group of men to be His disciples not from within the elite of the pre-Rabbi schools but out of ordinary life.  He did not spend all of His time in the temple but was out in the towns and villages eating and teaching the sinners and the lost.  Jesus did not simply read the scriptures and proclaim the word, but He also rolled up His sleeves and served others as a mean to show them God’s love.  He lived this way so that we would know what it looked like to live as a Christian.

In today’s passage we hear these words: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.  The first step is to deny self.  Society teaches us to first look out for #1, but Jesus says to put self last.  Jesus loved God with all He was and then next loved all of His neighbors more than He loved Himself.  He first sought to serve God and neighbor and only then did He consider His own needs.  In doing so, Jesus met people’s basic needs, sought equality for all, showed love and forgiveness and compassion, and lived a humble and simple life.

The next part involves taking up our cross.  On the cross of Calvary, Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice.  When Jesus calls us to take up our cross, He is asking us to die to self, to be willing to live with less so that others may have some, and to be a servant to all.

And then He says, “Follow me”.  Jesus calls us to do what He did, to follow His example.  Get out there into the ordinary of life – get outside the walls of the temple and our homes and our comfort zones.  Spend time with the lost – the sinners and the atheists and the non-believers.  Eat with them, talk with them, share Jesus with them.  Find ways to serve others, to meet people’s basic needs, to lift them up, and to bring them hope and justice.  In all this, we follow the One who lived God’s love out loud.  May we come and follow, showing the light and love of Christ to all for the glory of God.


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Inside

Reading: Isaiah 5: 5-7

God loves and cares for all humanity.  It is God’s desire to be in a loving relationship with each and every one of us.  God blesses us with all we need and more as an expression of that love and care.  God watches over us and through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit guides and protects us.  God is the ultimate example of a loving parent.

In today’s passage the people of Israel are the children.  Apparently they are not being good children.  The frustrated parent looks back over all that has been done for Israel and recalls all the love and blessings poured out upon them.  In response to their disobedience and lack of faithfulness to the covenant, God will step back from being their provider and protector.  God will not stop loving them.  But God will love them from afar.

At times in life I have made similar choices.  I can relate to the Israelites.  I have allowed earthly pursuits to push my relationship with God way to the back burner.  I have been enamored with the things of this world from time to time, leaving very little or no time for God.  At some point though I come to a place where I realize that the hedges and walls are not there.  My soul is dry as God’s rain has not fallen in a while.  When I stop here and look at how I have been living my life, I see that I have stepped outside of my relationship with God.  The walls and hedged are still there. I had just stepped outside of them for a season.

Perhaps you can relate.  Perhaps you know someone in your life who is struggling along outside the walls of God’s love.  Step back inside.  Lead that friend into a relationship with God.  In relationship with God is where and when life is best.  May we all dwell inside the bounds of a loving, committed relationship with God.


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May His Love Abound

In the Philippian church, the love of God was evident.  Paul’s affirmation of this love must have been uplifting and encouraging for them.  But Paul also challenged them to let this love grow so that it yeilds knowledge and insight.  Like a good coach, Paul built them up with a positive and also gave them an area to work on.

Church is the place where we should find love.  Jesus was all about loving all He met.  As His hands and feet He calls us offer His love both to those within the church and to those outside our walls.  His love calls us forth to alleviate suffering, to right injustices, and to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  These efforts are the ‘fruits of righteousness’ that Paul writes of and they bring praise and glory to God.

This knowledge and insight gained through allowing our love to grow and abound also helps churches in their relationships within.  As imperfect human beings there will be times when we are less than God intends us to be.  This may cause hurt and even division within the body of Christ.  Paul reminds the Philippians and us that the same guiding force must be used here as well: love.  When we meet challenges with love, then the outcome and resolution will also bring glory and praise to God.

As we prepare ourselves to receive our King, may this love abound more and more within us.  As we seek to love each other and our world in need, may His love within us be pure and blameless, seeking to bring praise and glory only to God and Jesus Christ.

Scripture reference: Philippians 1: 9-11


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The Building

The temple that King Harod built was massive and impressive.  It was thought to be indestructible.  So when Jesus told Peter, James, John, and Andrew that not one stone would be left on another, it would’ve been hard for them to imagine that.  He would later get a bigger reaction when He referenced destroying the temple.

As churches I think we too sometimes view our buildings this way.  The building is a wonderful place to gather for worhsip, to feed people, to teach people…  For some they dream of a new, bigger, better building.  Yet in any case it is just a building, something physical.

The heart and soul of the church is the people that make up that body of Christ and what they do for Christ.  A congregation of 1,000 can be dead and one of 20 can be on fire for Christ.  Size does not matter.  What does is a body’s willingness to go where Christ leads, to engage and minister to who He brings to that body called the church.

Frederick Buechner once suggested we do away with buildings, bulletins, and budgets.  He thought all that would be left was Jesus and the people.  It is an interesting thought and he well may be right.  But we do need a place to call home and a place to minister FROM as we go out into the world.  Plus we must always remember whose house it is!

Scripture reference: Mark 13: 1-8