pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Process

Reading: 1st John 5: 1-6

Verse One: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well”.

Some view religion as a list of rules that one must follow. They see obedience as a burden. In today’s passage, John uses father-son language. When we look at the obedience that occurs in a parent-child relationship I think we get a good look at how mature obedience is a process that must be carefully developed.

Through early childhood the child looks up to the parents and behaves as a means to please their parents. This is mirrored in early faith as well as they join in table graces and bedtime prayers. Their faith is the faith of their parents. As a child grows and develops a sense of Independence, boundaries get pushed. There are an important set of years where skilled parents still exert some control yet begin to meter out more and more decision-making to their teenager. While this is rarely a smooth and gradual shift of the locus of control, when done ‘well’ the teen eventually learns good inner self-control and learns to take responsibility for one’s own actions and decisions.

A similar process occurs as the faith of the parents becomes a faith of their own. As a young person’s faith matures, they gain a sense of a personal faith that centers around a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The stories of Sunday school and vacation Bible School begin to take on a personal meaning and application. This too is a time of questioning and redefining boundaries and understandings that usually occurs during the teen years. When one professes faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, the love of God takes on a whole new meaning. As verse one states, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well”. When one comes to understand love and our faith this way, there is a shift in the locus of obedience. One moved from “having” to love God and neighbor to “wanting” to love God and neighbor. This becomes more like sharing a wonderful gift than carrying a heavy burden. This owning and living out of one’s faith is a process and can take many years.

Jesus is also involved in a process. He is in the process of conquering the world through love. He invited us to join him in this process of overcoming hate and sin with love. Each day may we join Jesus in the process. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.

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Love and Faith

Reading: John 2: 18-22

Verse 22: “Then they believed the Scriptures and words that Jesus had spoken”.

Our passage today begins with the religious leaders asking Jesus a question: by what authority? It is an interesting question when we apply it to Jesus and us. Jesus does not use authority to force us into a relationship with Him. Jesus does not use authority to make us behave. For us, our connection to Jesus is based on love and faith. But for those leaders, they were all about being fully in charge and about having absolute authority within their spheres of influence – the temple and God’s chosen people.

In many ways the leaders were teaching the people to follow a religion or an institution. Judaism had become about making sure you did this and avoiding doing that. And there was a lot of this and that. At the pinnacle of this religious system were the religious leaders. Their authority was absolute and they kept a good grasp on it by hammering home the rules. For them it was largely about establishing and maintaining that authority. Then along comes this outsider, turning over tables and disrupting things. So when they asked Jesus about his authority, they were really asking: when did we give you permission to do this? They thought they had the corner on God.

Jesus is not about a checklist or a system of rewards and punishments, nor is following Jesus about any of these things. Jesus was all about love and that manifests itself through our relationships with God and with each other. Our relationship with God is based upon a covenant that says I will be your God and I will love you no matter what. It says I will love you when you do and when you don’t. It says I will love you when you sin and when you walk in faith. It says I will love you because I am love. Jesus is about as far from an authority figure as He could be. Yes, Jesus did set for us an example to follow but following is based upon love and faith. We enter relationship through faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as the way, truth, and life. Our belief comes just as the disciples’ faith did: “Then they believed the Scriptures and words that Jesus had spoken”.

As we live and grow in Jesus, He continues to love us through our ups and downs, through our failures and victories. For His love and for the faith in a Savior who loves us no matter what, we say thanks be to God.


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Grabbed

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-9

Verse Seven: Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Saul had a really good life.  His religious life checked off all the boxes: circumcised as an infant, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, great zeal for his religion, a faultless follower of the Law.  To Saul, he was as faithful to God as anyone.  From his perspective on top of the pedestal, he looked pretty good.

But then Saul met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.  He went through a powerful transformation experience.  The new Christian, Paul, writes, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Jesus Christ”.  All the titles, all the accolades, the view from the pedestal – they all are lost.  In the next verse Paul calls all these things “rubbish”.  For Paul, they are pale and worthless compared to the “surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”.  What a change has been wrought in Paul!

At times, some look at faith as Saul did – a series of rules to follow or boxes to check.  Baptized as a baby, came back to church for a dose of confirmation, returned maybe for graduation or to get married.  For others it is a bit deeper – come most Sunday mornings for the hour, say a short grace before meals, help out at the yearly ham dinner.  On the surface, their religion feels okay, maybe even good.  It would appear the requisite boxes were being checked off.

When Saul met Jesus, his life radically changed.  It wasn’t about saying that memorized prayer three times a day and eating only the “right” foods any more.  It wasn’t about coming that one hour on Sunday morning.   To Paul, the boxes were rote, they were false.  He gave up all “that I may gain Christ and be found in Him”.  Paul found a righteousness that comes not from the Law or anything he could do, but a righteousness that comes “from God and is by faith”.  Jesus reached out and grabbed Paul.  Life was never the same.

Has Jesus grabbed you?  Is self and all else loss for the sake of Christ?


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Extreme Love

Reading: Romans 5: 6-11

Verse 8 – God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Sometimes it is hard to really understand how much God loves us.  Sometimes it is hard to fathom how a pure and holy and perfect God could want to have a relationship with humanity.  One looks at the world and society at times and wonders why God is still engaged.  Yes, the faithful do offer some hope.  Those who are followers of Christ do try and live according to God’s ways and try to live in ways that are pleasing to God, in ways that shine His light into the world.  There are many folks working to build God’s kingdom here on earth.

But Paul is not writing about today.  Paul is writing in a world that was drifting in the other direction.  The Jews were not seeking to spread the news of God, to bring new people to the faith.  It could be argued that the faith had become religion – more about following all of the rules and less about a relationship with God.  Looking back over the course of the Old Testament, there is cycle after cycle of disobedience, punishment, eventual repentance, restoration of relationship.  Over and over again.  It was into this scenario that God sent His only Son.  It was into this world of sinners that Jesus came.  Verse eight reads, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.  While the world was broken, sinful, far from God, it was then that Jesus came.

It would be like taking time today to help that coworker who always gets on your nerves.  It would be like giving a ride to that dirty, stinky person who you know is going to ask for money before you reach your destination.  It would be like bringing a meal to that neighbor who never says thankful and always has something to complain about the meal the next time you talk.  It would be like saying hello to that older gentleman again this Sunday when all he does is scowl and grumble something under his breath.  Each of these and any worse one can imagine are just a sliver of the love that God showed in sending Jesus.  It was a show of love beyond our wildest understanding.  It is extreme love.  May we go and do likewise.


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Led Back

Isaiah opens with some tough words.  The prophet’s job, after all, is to call Israel back to God.  In verse ten Isaiah calls the Israelites Sodom and Gomorrah.  These two cities were famous for their wild and sinful lifestyle, typified by sexual immorality and idol worship.  No good Israelite would ever go to these places!  So Isaiah opens by telling the people of Israel that they are now just as bad as two of the most evil-filled places ever.  It is definitely a way to get their attention.

Isaiah then goes on to reveal how they clothe who they really are on going through the religious motions.  The people of Israel are still offering sacrifices at the temple and are still reciting their daily prayers.  The people do offer sacrifices but return at once to their sins.  So God rejects their hollow prayers too because their “hands are covered in blood”.  The people’s insides are still full of sin and evil.  Their empty religion is trying to mask this.

Today, are we still living this way?  Do we sometimes act like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah?  Do we sometimes practice a fake or hollow religion?  Do we sometimes fall into sin?  I am afraid the answer to all of these questions is at times ‘yes’.

Sin is and always has been one of the realities of human life.  We are imperfect therefore we sin.  At times we go to church or a Bible study and our mind is consumed by something from work or from home.  We practice fake religion in these times.  We are there but we are not there.  Isaiah offers us a better option.

Isaiah calls us to seek justice, to encourage the oppressed, to defend the first fatherless, to plead the case of the widow.  He advises us to be a servant to others.  By doing the things God calls us to do we will be led back to God and to God’s ways.  This day may we seek to be in service to God, through loving the least and the lost, the poor and the oppressed.


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Open, Loving, Welcoming

Reading: Revelation 1: 4-8

At times our churches and faith can be private or exclusive is one is not already a member.  Sometimes we do this by using insider language or by expecting guests or seekers to know how we do things or to look and behave just like we do.  Although most churches genuinely work at and desire to be welcoming and inviting, sometimes we are not.  In the same way, most Christians know Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations; we just do not live with this as our primary focus.  We inadvertently put up barriers or fences that in essence keep non-believers and the unchurched outside of our institutions.  On a personal level, we can judge or choose to keep separate from those we see as sinners and unsaved.

If we are truly living as a witness to the love of Christ, we will seek to be more inclusive and inviting and will work to be less judgmental and isolated.  Jesus’ radar was always on.  He was so sensitive to the needs He sensed in people.  Jesus did not allow social or cultural or any other norms to tell Him how to deal with someone.  He simply recognized what they needed and what He could offer and acted accordingly.  Jesus seemed to be friend to all as relationship was the basis of His ministry.  The forming of a relationship so often allowed Him to share Himself to meet their need.

Just as Jesus sought first and foremost to be welcoming and to quickly enter into relationships, so must we as His disciples and as His church.  People need Jesus, not our religion or our churches.  He is who or what we offer.  It is through faith and in the church that people come to know Jesus.  We all need to know His love and the saving grace offered by His blood.  To begin to know Jesus, one must experience Jesus in the love and witness of His followers.  This is what we have to offer.

As believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we are privileged to live in His love as we enjoy a personal relationship with the savior of the world.  This relationship is something we are called to share with others.  Our opportunity may come within the walls of the church; it may come out there in the world.  May we be as open, loving, and welcoming as Jesus was as we seek to live as His witness in and through our lives.


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Into a New Way

The Book of Hebrews seeks to connect the Jews living under the old covenant to the new covenant ushered in by Jesus Christ.  In today’s passage the author explains that the old way of animal sacrifices only cleans that outside of a person but that through the new sacrifice, through the blood of Jesus, we are cleansed on the inside.  We are reminded that we are cleansed so that we can serve the living God.

Throughout Hebrews is this idea of ‘living’.  We are exhorted to have a living faith that is guided by the Spirit and not bound by manmade rules and laws.  Living by the Spirit can feel dangerous and wide-open.  Living by religion can feel safe and known.  But too often ‘religion’ is typified by rigid practices, by entrenched traditions, and by requirements that feel a lot like laws.  Like sheep tightly confined to a pen, religion asks one to go through the motions, to check off the boxes.  Religion becomes little more that Sunday worship and an occassional prayer.

By contrast Hebrews call us out of our old ways of living by religion and into new way of living by faith.  Faith is guided by the Spirit.  The Spirit moves in unexpected and surprising and unknown ways.  For typically neat, in-the-box people, this is scary.  Religion with its known boundaries is safe.  Jesus did not call us to religion, but to faith.

When Jesus sais, “Come, follow me”, He did not say where or how or when.  He simply said, “Come.”  He knew that the Spirit would lead.  May we each step out, take ahold of the hand of the Holy Spirit, and see where Jesus takes us today.

Scripture reference: Hebrews 9: 11-14