pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Tell, Tell, Tell

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 16: “And he told them this parable…”.

Jesus loved to tell a story. His stories always taught something about faith and they usually connected to everyday life. All in the audience could usually relate to the story, often called a parable.

Although it is not as common today, there are still cultures and people groups who still tell their history through stories. Oral traditions are how much of a people’s story gets passed along to the next generation. Much of the Bible comes to us as oral tradition that was finally written down. For example, the gospel we read today was compiled and written at least forty years after Jesus died.

Many people in the less developed areas of our world still rely on oral tradition. Literacy rates are low and books are scarce within some people groups. Here the stories of the group, the family, the individual is passed on in story form. Stories are easier to remember than factual lists or straight history accounts. Much care and attention is given to knowing the story well in order to pass it along well to those who do not know the story. Knowing the story well and passing it along are two key components of living out our Christian faith.

There are actually two stories we need to know well as Christians. The first is the story of the Bible. We do not need to memorize the whole Bible but we do need to understand the overarching story and the important details related to personal salvation and faithful living. The second story we need to know well is our own faith story. We must be able to tell the story of how and why Jesus matters in our life. We must be able to tell the story of what Jesus does for us.

Once we know these stories, our task becomes telling the stories to others. The story of the Bible is big and we can share that with anyone. Our personal faith story is a little more specific, yes, but there are many who need to hear it. We just have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to these people. As faithful followers may we tell the story of faith well and often – both of the stories!

Prayer: Lord, Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is a big story. Help me to continue to be faithful to learning more of the story. Day by day increase my understanding. Grant me then the words and actions to tell your story and my story well. 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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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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Pearls and Treasures

Reading: Matthew 13: 44-52

Verses 44 and 46: Then in his joy… he sold all he had… he sold everything…

In our first two parables today, the ‘man’ in each comes into contact with something of great worth and both joyfully sell all they own to acquire what they have found.  The meaning for us relates to the value of the kingdom of God.  Once we come into contact with God’s kingdom we too are willing to give anything or everything to possess it.  The discovery process can vary.  One man happened upon it while the other was searching.  So it is with our faith journeys.  Some people are born into a family of faith, some happen into faith as God powerfully acts in their lives, and others come to a place in life that leads them to actively seek God.

The third parable today is another reminder of why we should seek the kingdom of God.  At the end of the age we will all be drawn into the symbolic net.  All people will be judged by God.  Some will be deemed ‘good’ and go on to eternal glory in God’s presence.  Others will be deemed ‘bad’ and will be condemned to eternal punishment.  Some will be ‘collected’ and others will be ‘thrown away’.

No matter how or why we come to be a part of God’s kingdom, to be a part of God’s kingdom is of great value.  The value is both temporal and eternal.  In the temporal, as we live in relationship with God and Jesus, we find strength and comfort, peace and joy, contentment and blessing, mercy and forgiveness, and so much more.  In the eternal we have our hope.  When all things are made new then there will be no pain or tears or sadness or need.  We will dwell in God’s new kingdom and live forever in His light and love, realizing the great value of being part of the kingdom of God.

After telling these three parables, Jesus asks them if they have “understood these things”.  After an affirmative answer, Jesus tells them that now they are “like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old”.  Just as the disciples were ‘owners’ so too are we.  These parables and the whole Bible that we can read fill our storehouse.  The parables and teachings in the Bible are the things of great worth.  As we read and reflect on the Word, we continue to ponder the pearls and also to discover the hidden treasures as the living Word continues to speak into our lives.  As we continue on our journey of faith, may we continue to be in the Word so that we may ever grow in the knowledge and love of God.


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Hear

Reading: Matthew 13: 36-43

Verse 41: The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.

After telling the parable of the weeds, Jesus next tells two more parables.  They are short and speak of how the kingdom of God will spread and grow and affect all it touches.  After these two parables Jesus withdraws to the house.  Here the disciples ask for an explanation of the parable of the weeds.  In private, Jesus unpacks the parable for the disciples.

When Jesus told the parable to the crowd, it followed the parable of the sower, where Jesus talks about what kind of soil we are.  In explaining this parable to the disciples, Jesus explains why He speaks in parables.  For those who understand, Jesus says more will be given.  He goes on to say that some who hear never understand and He laments that some have closed their eyes and hardened their hearts.  Jesus is using a prophecy from Isaiah to do all this.  Tied into the parable of the soils, this leads us to introspection: what kind of soil am I today?  What kind of soil do I want to be?  As we grow in our faith, we come to understand more and then more will be given.

In today’s passage, Jesus is giving more to the disciples.  He begins by explaining who the real characters are: the Son of Man, the evil one, humanity, and the angels.  The story isn’t about storing up the crop and getting rid of the weeds.  It is about the end of the age, when a resurrected Jesus will return.  There is a foreboding and ominous feeling to the explanation.  There is a stark contrast between the two outcomes.  When Jesus says, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil”, there is a finality.  Instead of simply telling stories, Jesus has become very serious.  Again, Jesus is leading those who have ears to hear what He is saying.  He is leading those who hear to gain more understanding.

As we ourselves reflect on the interpretation of today’s passage, we must ponder: are we those weeping and gnashing teeth or are we those shining like the sun?  Do we take what Jesus has to say and allow it to change and challenge us?  Our passage ends with, “He who has ears, let him hear”.  May it be so with us today.


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Delve Deeper

Reading: Matthew 13: 24-30

Verse 24: The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.

Today’s parable immediately follows the parable of the sower with the four soils and the parable’s explanation.  Just as the audience is nodding in approval as they wrap their heads around this teaching, Jesus begins another parable with, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field”.  Yes, God is good so He would sow good seed.  Many would have thought back to the thorny soil in the last parable and connected the thorns with the evil one.  It is a logical connection.  But maybe not.  This is the nature of the parables.  They are intended to make us think, to lead us to delve deeper than the surface understandings, to challenge and push us forward, to pull us up short and to lead us to repentance.

Most folks who walked up as Jesus began the parable would understand the opening scene.  Evil has always existed in our world and evil men do evil things.  In almost all fields,weeds seem to be a constant presence.  And no, I did not plant weeds in my garden; but, yes, there are a lot of them.  So maybe the people there that day just dismissed the weeds as the ‘staff’ of everyday life.  For some, maybe Satan was the planter.  After all, he sows temptations into our lives all the time.

But then comes the twist.  No, don’t pull the weeds.  Let them grow alongside the wheat.  Huh?  The audience with the nodding heads would have become still.  Quizzical faces would have developed.  I imagine a long pause here by Jesus – for full effect.  Today we read the last verse and our mind connects to the judgment that will come.  Weeds to hell, good crop to heaven. Got it!

But do we?  Was or is that Jesus’ meaning?  What else could it mean?  How else could it apply to our lives?  What if the parable is about how we mature in our faith, not removing the sin until our roots are strong enough not to fall right back into it?  Just one of many possible applications!  Think, delve deep, wrestle with the things of God, find meaning for yourself.  God’s blessings on the journey.


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Ears to Hear

Reading: Matthew 13: 1-9

Verses 3 and 9: A farmer went out to sow his seed… He who has ears, let him hear.

The parable of the sower is very familiar.  Most folks who have been Christians very long have read it as they’ve read their Bibles or have heard it discussed in a sermon or small group study.  But what about those who heard it sitting by the lake, directly from Jesus?  For many of them there, the answer is the same as it would be for someone encountering the parable for the first time today.  It is about what Jesus began with: “A farmer went out to sow his seed”.  On this level it kinda makes sense.  Poor soil yields a poor crop and good soil yields a good crop.  But the middle soils and the widely varying yields?

Jesus concludes with, “He who has ears, let him hear”.  The people who are really listening and searching for meaning in the words of Jesus will be able to hear what He is trying to tell them.  Others will only hear His words and walk away shrugging their shoulders.  I think this is one reason Jesus spoke in parables.  It applies today as well.  For those seeking meaning for their faith and application for their lives, there is much to learn from the parables.  But we too must have ears to hear.  A second reason I think Jesus spoke in parables is because they connect earthly things that all people can understand and relate to with heavenly things that require a little more time and effort on our part to fully grasp and then live into.

Sometimes when we read or hear a parable, we too may scratch our heads a bit.  But let us not leave it there.  Go to a commentary or some other resource.  Discuss it with a friend or your pastor or with your small group.  Pray for discernment and guidance.  Every word that Jesus spoke has relevance and meaning for our walk of faith.  Let the one who has ears hear Jesus’ message today.