pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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The Flock

Reading: Luke 15: 1-7

Today’s passage begins with Jesus acting in a countercultural way.  He is associating and dining with those who would not be welcome at the Pharisees’ tables and who the Pharisees see as outcasts.  Who could you bring to the family dinner table or to sit beside you in your pew at church that would make others uneasy or would make them frown or tisk-tisk you?

Instead of arguing with the religious leaders, Jesus tells a story that all there could relate to.  Being a shepherd was a very common job.  Although it was a job at the bottom of the scale, all would be familiar with this occupation.  Each gathered there would understand that all the sheep in the flock were of worth and value.  So when one sheep goes missing, of course the shepherd goes and looks for it.  Naturally, the shepherd is happy when the sheep is found.  Although just a story, probably all there were happy for the shepherd too.

Now that Jesus has all in the audience to this common point of understanding, He adds an analogy.  He says that in the same way God rejoices when one lost sinner repents and is returned to the fold.  I think the Pharisees would agree with this concept as well.  If a fellow Pharisee sinned, God would rejoice when they made the requisite sacrifice, became ceremonially clean again, and returned to the group.  Their ‘flock’ is the circle of people who are just like them.

If you walked into church tomorrow with someone who had not attended in a while, the flock would rejoice and say, “Welcome back!” to the lost sheep.  While someone returning to church is a good thing, I think Jesus is making another point.  Jesus’ understanding of “flock” is much bigger than ours or the Pharisees’.  By ‘sinner’ Jesus means all people who sin, not just church members who sin.  Jesus’ vision of flock is ALL people.  Red and yellow, black and white, sinner and saved, believer and non-believer… all are precious in His sight.  Who is outside your circle that you need to bring in?


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Unwanted Guest

Reading: Luke 7:36 – 8:3

The woman in today’s story is a bit of an unwanted guest.  She is well-known as a sinner, as one who is unclean.  Sins against God were also seen as social sins, so she is one who would have been shunned by any good Jew.  It is curious that she was even allowed in the house.

The Pharisee in the story is officially the host.  He has invited Jesus into his home for a meal.  However, as the story reveals, he is apparently not a very good host.  It was customary to do certain things to welcome a guest.  Most basic was the washing of the feet.  In the dry and dusty climate the cleansing of the feet was a needed and refreshing act of service.  It symbolized the acceptance of the guest.  By not washing Jesus’ feet, the Pharisee left a barrier up between them.

The woman must have sensed something powerful in Jesus’ presence.  She stood silently behind Him and began to weep.  Grace and love must have been working on her heart.  As she cried, her tears wet Jesus’ feet.  Sensing Jesus’ welcome of her presence, she knelt and began wiping His wet feet with her hair, taking on the physical grime and dirt as she cleaned His feet.  In a final act of loving service, she anointed His feet with perfume.  The sin that so encompassed her life must have been falling away too.  His love was overcoming much.

As the Pharisee is mentally recoiling at this obvious sinner touching Jesus, Jesus confronts him.  He uses a simple story on debt forgiveness to illustrate why the woman cries so – she is joyful over the love and grace and mercy that Jesus is giving her.  God’s love is not limited to the saved, but is offered most generously to the sinner, the one most in need.  Much joy comes when one repents, turns from sin, and knows forgiveness.  Through extravagant love given and received, this woman was made whole again and new in Christ.  In our encounters with the lost, with the sinners, and with the unwanted guests, may we too offer the extravagant love of Jesus Christ.


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God Is Better

Our culture has become adept at bending the truth.  We are good at telling people what we think they want to hear and at ‘working’ statistics to support our viewpoint.  It is easy to say this is who we are and then to go act in a different manner.  Larger society has become very gray.

It was no different in Jesus’ day.  The Pharisees came out to see Jesus and wanted to challenge Jesus and the disciples because they were eating with ‘unclean’ hands.  They had not undergone the ceremonial cleansing of their hands before they ate.  The word ‘ceremonial’ is a tip-off.  In the opening line of His response, Jesus calls them hypocrites and quotes from Isaiah about their lip service and fascination with the rules.  We hear “smack, smack, smack” but the Pharisees were wondering who Jesus was talking about.

Jesus goes on to teach that it is not what we put into ourselves that makes us unclean but it what comes from our thoughts and words that make us unclean.  We sin and become unclean when we have evil thoughts, when we utter lies and unkind words, when we engage in immoral behavior, and when we allow envy, greed, jealousy, and malice into our hearts.  When we work to be holy and to live a righteous life and to keep evil far away, then we are right with God and we are ‘clean’.

People today are pretty good at wading through the smoke screens and half-truths served up so commonly today.  And we must make no mistake about it – God is pretty good at it too.  We cannot fool God.  When we come before Him with sin in our lives – and sinful we are – we must confess, repent, and seek His strength for the battle.  In His great love we find mercy and grace.  He refines us and gives us strength.  Allow Him in, lean on Him a little more, hear His voice, and go forth in Christ, seeking a closer walk with God.

Scripture reference: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, and 21-23