pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Who and What?

Reading: Matthew 22: 15-22

Verse 20: “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription”?

As the end of Jesus’ ministry draws to a close, the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders has escalated. Early in the final week of his life the Pharisees send some folks to test Jesus, to try and trap him. Even when they are flattering Jesus to soften him up, their words have truth in them. The words of these envoys belie their dilemma. Jesus is a man of integrity – so why are they trying to trap him? Jesus is one who teaches the truth – so why begin with words that are not believed by the ones that sent them? Jesus is not swayed by men – so why try to trap him with a political and religious question? Because Jesus is all of these things, to find or catch him sinning is not possible. So the religious leaders distress to trickery.

After calling out the hypocrisy, Jesus asks for a coin to use in his answer to their question: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not”? A “yes” would anger many Jews. They resent the Romans and their oppressive taxes. A “no” would be seen as treason by the Romans. Jesus chooses a better answer than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. After receiving a denarius, he asks the questions, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription”? Before going on to hear Jesus’ answer to the original question (that is for Sunday), let us apply these questions to ourselves.

If our lives were held up for all to see and examine, what would be the answer to the question of whose image we bear? This question gets at the root or core of who we really are. When others look at us, do they see the image of Jesus Christ? Do they see one who has integrity, who speaks truth, who is not swayed by the things of the world? Or do they see one who is willing to be a little immoral at times, one who will occasionally bend the truth, one who sometimes does chase after the things of the world, or one who does all three?

Who and what we are matters. It matters to God and it matters to the witness that we have to the world. Who we are, and, more importantly, whose we are really are great things to consider. May our reflection today upon these questions lead us closer to living in the image of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord of all people and of all the earth, in each of my words, in each of my actions, in each of my thoughts, may I bring you the glory. May all that is selfish and prideful and sinful be laid aside in the pursuit of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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A Story of Love

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6 and 37-45

Verse 40: “They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven”.

Today’s Psalm passage is part of a larger Psalm that tells the early history of Israel. In the verses we did not read it speaks of the covenant and of God’s protection when they were small in number. It also speaks of Joseph and of the plagues that led to the exodus. Our passage today picks up the story of the actual exodus and of God’s saving acts out in the wilderness. The Psalm would have been sung on the way to worship or in worship. It would have been heavy in the song rotation in the period after returning from exile in Babylon.

As we reflect on our days reading from Exodus 16 this week, we get a different feel for the story. In the Psalm we read, “They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven”. This is much different from the repeated grumbling directly against Moses and indirectly against God. The story has been polished up a bit. But that is a common practice. When we, for example, tell of how God answered our prayers during a hard time or season in our lives, we do not include much about the days of doubt and frustration or anything about our anger at experiencing said trial or suffering. We don’t tell the story as one of weak or faltering faith and of God finally answering. Why do we tend to do that? Why did the psalmist?

The point of the story is not to recount our human weakness or failures but to tell of God’s love and care, of God’s investment in our lives. For the Israelites, this story played out in the covenant and the Law. For us, it plays out in our saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Both are great stories to be told. What song can or would you sing, telling others of God’s love for you? May our lives be that song today.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the story of my life. It is of your love and care, of your guidance and direction, and even of your correction and protection. It is not always pretty. It is not always neat and tidy. But it is the story of your love for me. Thank you. Amen.


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Do I Reflect Christ?

Reading: Romans 13: 11-14

Verse 12: “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”.

Paul’s overarching theme in Romans 13 is loving our neighbors. In today’s verses he focused on how our behaviors and choices impact our ability to love others. Paul begins by encouraging us to love others “understanding the present time”. He goes on to explain that Jesus’ return is closer today than it ever was. This remains true for us too. But there is also another angle to understanding the present times. We live in a much different world than Paul lived in. For example, words we leak out on Facebook or Twitter or Tik Tok or… can fly around the globe in seconds. Our words or video might not go viral, but they do color how everyone who knows us sees us from then on. If we do not understand that every one of us can influence others – for good and for bad – then we do not understand the present time.

In verse twelve we read, “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”. There are two parts to this admonition, both equally important to our ability to love others. The first part is to put aside evil thoughts and deeds. Paul lists sexual immorality and drunkenness right along with quarreling and jealousy. If we are promiscuous or abuse drugs or alcohol, if we are always disagreeable and argumentative, if we are always longing for what others have or just for more and more, then we have diminished our ability to even be able to love others. When we practice such evil deeds and selfish behaviors, others do not see us as people who are able to truly love. They see us as people working angles, as people only doing good for some selfish purpose. That is if they are even willing to be around us. Being a hypocrite – doing this thing and then trying to say another thing – is a relationship killer. The ability to love always begins with a relationship.

Instead of this, the second part of verse twelve calls us to “put on the armor of light”, which is Jesus Christ. The desires of the flesh have a strong pull. Jesus is stronger. By putting on Christ, by filling ourselves daily with his love, we are better able to be his love in the world. We are what we allow into our hearts. By filling ourselves with Christ instead of worldly thoughts and desires, Christ is what we reflect out into the world. If this is all people see in our words and actions, then we begin to have the opportunity to be love in the world. So, today, let us consider how we live. May we focus in on this simple question: Do I reflect Jesus Christ in all I say and do or do others see less in me?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to live more fully as your witness in the world. When evil thoughts rise up, shove them aside with a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit. When I am tempted by the things of this world, blow out the flames of desire with the quiet whisper of the Holy Spirit. Empower me today to be light and love in the world. Amen.


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Expressing Love

Reading: Romans 12: 9-21

Verse 17: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”.

In our passage today Paul is speaking of how to live as a Christian. He does not separate how to live within the faith community from how to live in the world. How we act and speak and do within our faith communities should be how we act and speak and do out in the world. In this letter, Paul is speaking to the church in Rome. They are a diverse church, just like many of our churches. Our bodies of Christ represent many ages, occupations, politics, and so forth. In an ideal world, our church would reflect or match our community and vice versa.

As he gets down to the actual practice of love, Paul encourages the church to share with those in need and to practice hospitality. He encourages them to walk through life together – weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who are rejoicing. Paul lifts up the goal of living in harmony with each other. He warns them not to be proud but to associate with everyone. These are all ways that we express or demonstrate the genuine and sincere love that he spoke of at the beginning of this section. While some of these can be challenging or can stretch us a bit, they are all things we can accomplish for our family and friends and fellow church members. But Paul is not concerned just with how we treat this group of people.

Sprinkled into today’s passage are also some exhortations that we might prefer to read past. Paul exhorts us to bless those who persecute us and warns us about our responses: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”. He also cautions us against seeking or taking revenge. Paul is directing us to love sincerely those who are not showing us love but disdain, dislike, and even hatred towards us. This can be quite the challenge. There is ample proof of this on many social media platforms. Instead of walking the road of evil, Paul encourages us to love and care for our enemies. Mirroring Jesus’ words concerning heaven-worthy behavior, Paul directs us to feed our enemies when they are hungry and to give them a drink when they are thirsty. The burning coals are the angst they will feel inside about giving poor treatment to the ones who show them love.

“As far as it depends on you”, may we heed Paul’s words, seeking today and every day to “live at peace with everyone”. As far as it depends on you… In our own little worlds, it all depends on us. May we each be the light and love, the hands and feet, the eyes and hearts of Christ each day.

Prayer: Loving God, guide me to be obedient to you in all ways and at all times. May who I am at home and at church and at the ballgame… be the same. May I be your love lived out in all ways, in all places, and for all people. Help me to treat one and all with your same love and compassion. Amen.


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Walk on in Faith

Reading: Genesis 22: 1-14

Verse 8: “Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering'”.

Our passage from Genesis 22 is one of those stories of faith that we read and wonder if we could do what that Biblical hero did. For me, this passage is right up there with David facing Goliath, Daniel facing the lions’ den, Esther facing the king, and Peter taking that step out onto the water. When our faith feels strong, these are actions we too could take for God.

Abraham has had a long story with God. As a young man he was asked to trust God and, as he left his father’s homeland, it began a long walk with God. After many years the promise of a son came true when Abraham was 100 years old. And now, just over 110, God asks for Isaac as a sacrifice. It is not to occur then and there. No, Abraham must make a three day journey first. This in itself would test many of us and would push us to the brink – walking for three days with nothing to pray and think about other than offering your only child. Abraham walks on in faith.

As they begin to head up the mountain, Isaac has put the pieces together – wood, fire, knife… He asks Abraham, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering”? That question might have been enough for me to turn and head back down the mountain. But in an awesome testament to his faith Abraham says, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”. Again, Abraham walks on in faith.

Today, as we consider this story, what step of faith is God calling you to take? Reflecting on how God has been with you as you have stepped out before, how will you begin to walk forward in faith today?

Prayer: Lord God, as a new chapter opens, grant me the courage to step forward in faith and trust. Help me to lean on you in moments of fear or doubt. Guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Each Day

Reading: Romans 6: 1b-11

Verse 8: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”.

Once we take on Christ, we die to self and are made into a new creation. There is a temporal and an eternal aspect to our new self. Yesterday we read about Christ’s defeating of sin and our call to walk in a new way. Sin is still something we struggle with from time to time, but it is no longer our way of life.

In verse eight we read these words: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”. The temporal application of this is in our day to day lives. It is living each day following Jesus and modeling the love for God and others and the obedience to God that both exemplified his life. It is living with hope and peace, with joy and contentment, with trust and assurance. A life lived in Christ reflects him to others. The eternal application is that one day we will live eternally with Jesus Christ – if we live day to day with him now. Professing and living with Jesus as Lord of your life on earth is intertwined with a life in eternal glory. Now, there is no set number of days one must live as a follower of Jesus Christ in order to enter heaven. In Luke 23 we see that the thief on the cross only followed for a few hours. But once we know Jesus – who he is and who he can be in our lives – it is then that following becomes becomes the requisite for both life here and for entrance into the life to come. May we each live fully with Christ today!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to walk closer with you. Guide my heart and mind to be in tune with yours. Draw me ever more obedient to your example, to your love and grace. Amen.


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Acceptable?

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-5

Verse 2: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”.

Isaiah 58 starts with a pronouncement from God. In verse one God encourages Isaiah to “shout it aloud. Do not hold back”. Proclaim it from the rooftops! The message is something God wants all the people of Judah to hear. Getting right to the point, God declares the rebellion of the people, laying their sins before them. In verse two we get a hint at the heart of the problem: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”. In these phrases, the key word is “seem”. On the surface the people of Judah appear to be seeking God. In verse three the people try to defend themselves, asking why God did not notice their fasting. There is a reason.

Yesterday in church we celebrated communion. At our church we offer communion on the first Sunday of each month. In the words before coming forward there was a prayer and a time to lay our sins before the Lord, inviting us to offer repentance along with confession. Everyone in church took communion. Did all take the opportunity to search their hearts and to make a humble and sincere confession of their sins? Did all humbly desire to repent and go forth walking a more holy life? In an ideal world the answers to these questions would be yes and yes! But maybe someone was thinking instead about the Super Bowl snacks that lay ahead or about which commercial would be their favorite. Maybe someone thought they had no sins to confess. If anyone came and took communion in these or similar mindsets, they were practicing a ritual not participating in a sacrament.

The people of Judah were going through the motions of fasting. Yes, they were abstaining from food. But that is as far as their fast went. They were exploiting their workers. They were quarreling and fighting amongst themselves. The ritual of fasting was not changing their sinful ways. Their ritual fasting was not changing their hearts or helping them to be holy. A fast, when celebrated properly, works to draw one closer to God and deeper into walking in God’s ways. Communion should have the same affect. The same can be said of prayer, worship, Bible study, meditation, practicing Sabbath…

Our section for today ends with this question: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord”? Tough question. Reflect on yesterday for a minute or two. Would God ask this question of any part of your day set aside for God?

Prayer: Lord God, it is a bit disconcerting to think about when I just go through the motions instead of choosing to be fully present with you or others. Strip away my busyness, my selfishness, my distractions, my half-hearted efforts. Just as you are fully present with me, may I be so to you and to those you place before me today. Amen.


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Love God and One Another

Reading: Psalm 15

Verse 1: “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill”?

The opening questions in verse one of today’s Psalm deal with who may be in God’s presence. The broad answer to these questions is “anyone”. But it is not that simple. While it is true that anyone can be in God’s presence, not all are able to. Anyone who is in a right relationship with God can be in his presence. But if we are separated from God because of the sin in our lives, then we cannot be in a right relationship with God. This Psalm is intended to help worshippers look within, to confess and repent of the sins they bear, before they enter into God’s holy presence.

Verses two through five give us a short list of who may or may not enter God’s presence. Those who are blameless, righteous, and who speak the truth – “even when it hurts” – are welcome into God’s presence. Those who slander or gossip, cast slurs, or lend with usury (high interest) are not able to stand in God’s presence. This, of course, is a short list. There are many more ways to do right in God’s eyes and there are many more ways to sin. But the list does serve to get us thinking about the condition of our relationships with God and with one another. We must consider both because they are intertwined.

This is not just an Old Testament or just a Biblical times issue. In the New Testament, for example, Jesus says not to come to the altar of God if there is an issue between you and another. Jesus instructs us to set that right before coming to God. We reflect this idea in communion, confessing and repenting of our sins before coming forward for the cup and the bread. In our own personal prayers we should also practice confession before bringing our requests and thanks to God.

This idea of righteous living is at the core of how one is able to come into God’s sanctuary or into his presence in any other place or time. Righteous living is based upon our love of God and of one another. Our love of God is reflected in how we love one another. How we love one another reflects how we love God. These two loves are intertwined and inseparable. In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus teaches that everyone is our neighbor. The Psalm ends with “he who does these things will never be shaken”. Loving both God and one another, may we never be shaken.

Prayer: God of love, speak into my heart this day. Where I am not loving you or others, convict me. Where self or pride or arrogance are limiting my ability to really love you or others, strip that sin away. Show me, Lord, how to be love to one and all, to you and to each I meet. Amen.


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Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verse 13: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”.

Paul writes today about belonging. We all want to belong, to have a place we fit into, to be loved. For most of us, we belong in three groups – family, church, and friends. Sometimes there is overlap in these, sometimes there is not.

The traditional family we belong to is generally biological. We add to that though. My immediate family would include my parents, my wife and children and daughter-in-law, and my brother and his wife and children. Connected from there are cousins, aunts, uncles… My family of friends is a little different but is still based on some common characteristics: love, trust, care, investment in relationship. With friends we can pick and choose more as things like common interests and personality also play into who we allow into our family of friends.

Our church family falls somewhere in between these two other families. There is a certain admission process that occurs, like with our friends. But it is different in that we in the church were first chosen by God, according to his plan. When we accept God’s invitation – “having believed” in Paul’s words today – then we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”. This process places us within a family that is more like our traditional family. We are connected to one another as the body of Christ. These connections are like those we find in our traditional families. Our local church is like our nuclear family – closely connected, strong bonds of love, trust, care… Our denomination or connectional system is like the next circle out – aunts, uncles, cousins… There is still a sense of community and we call each other family. The worldwide church of Jesus Christ is the outer circle. We should look at all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m afraid we look at some of these as our sixth cousin twice removed or like Uncle Fritz – the one no one talks about or mentions anytime. Sadly this also happens in our closer circles as well.

There is but one God, one Lord Jesus Christ, one abiding Holy Spirit. We who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are all baptized into one inheritance, eternal in the heavens. May our lives and our connections to one another reflect these basics, all to the praise of his glory.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me on the path of love. Root me in the core essentials of faith. Grant me grace in all other differences. 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.