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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Covenant Love and Grace

Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7 and 15-16

Verse 7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants after you”.

Our God is the God of covenants. A covenant establishes a relationship between two parties. In today’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, God establishes the covenant to be our God. As the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, we are certainly included in this covenant. Just as it was with each of us as the Holy Spirit wooed us into a relationship with God, so too did God take the initiative to start a covenant relationship with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham had trusted and obeyed God and had lived a righteous life. God, in turn, chose to bless Abraham and Sarah (and us) with His covenant promise.

Although a covenant is an “I’ll love you no matter what” promise, we do still like our rules and ways to measure our relationships. We like to know what we have to do, to know how we are doing, to know how we compare to others… But our covenant relationship with God is not about checking off boxes or measuring up to some standard. It is all about God’s grace. Grace is the “no matter what” part of our relationship with God. God loves us no matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or do not say, no matter how we act or do not act. Grace looks past all of this and says “I love you and will always be your God”.

God invites each of us into this relationship based upon love and grace no matter what. At times, this is uncomfortable and a bit awkward. It is unsettling. As a child and then later as a husband, I’ve had a time or two or more than I can count when I’ve felt a similar love and grace when I did not deserve it. These experiences with unconditional love and forgiveness give us an idea of God’s covenant love and grace. The idea of this much love is a little frightening or even intimidating. But more than that, it is inviting. Over and over and over God invites us to get back up and to walk once again in His grace and love. He invites us to trust in His love and grace, to give up our own need for control, and to surrender fully so that we can walk where He leads. Make me willing today and each day, O Lord.


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#1 Tradition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 18: The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.

Every year for Christmas my family gathers after church on Christmas Eve and we open one present.  The present is always the same: new pajamas.  For Thanksgiving every year we always have green bean casserole and chocolate chess pie.  It feels like we have been doing these things forever.

Our churches also have traditions.  Most churches do.  In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing one of these traditions.  It began like many of our church traditions did and has become almost law by this point.  One day long ago someone started something and soon enough it became tradition.  For the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing, these traditions were very important.  Many of their traditions or laws were based on generations of interpretations of the Bible.  Much of it therefore had come not necessarily straight from God but from man’s interpretation of the Word.  A good, modern day example would be baptism.  In the Bible we do have some examples of baptisms and some understandings of what it means and why one is baptized.  But there is no place in the Bible where it defines exactly how and when a baptism should occur.  Yet this topic causes division and differences and barriers between us.  The same can be said of communion.  I think this makes Jesus sad.

In today’s passage Jesus is dealing with a rule that creates a barrier.  Many of the religious traditions or laws created barriers to people because they kept people away from God.  Ritualistic and detailed handwashing became the rule for the Pharisees.  Eat without perfectly pristine hands and you know what happens…  But Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean'”.  He is saying that what is in a person’s heart is what makes them spiritually clean or unclean, not the condition of their hands.  If evil resides in our hearts, then we are unclean spiritually.  If good resides, then we are clean.  To Jesus, a person’s heart is what mattered.

Jesus’ most important question is: “Do you love me”?  For Jesus love was always the guide and the first consideration.  That’s why He ate with unclean sinners and why he healed on the Sabbath.  Love triumphed.  Faith is not about the tradition or the laws or the unwritten rules.  It is about letting love lead and serving and ministering to others in love.

What traditions or ‘rules’ create barriers in our churches?  How do we make love the #1 tradition or the rule?


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Praying for Our Leaders

Reading: Psalm 72: 1-7 and 10-14

A good king in Israel would rule with justice and righteousness.  A good king would protect the people and provide for their needs.  A good king was sensitive to the needs and concerns of the poor and needy, giving them voice and meeting their basic needs.  A good king ruled according to God’s will.  The people prayed daily for the King, asking God to bless their reign with justice and righteousness.  Life was simply better when a good king reigned.

Today we do not have kings but have presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, senators, representatives, judges, governors, legislators, mayors, councilmen, and councilwomen.  The titles have changed by the roles should not.  As whatever level one serves, it should still be with righteousness and justice.  All should serve for the good of the people and the prosperity of the nation, state, city, or community.  It should not be a self-serving role.  Our role should not change either.  Our role is still to pray daily for all of our leaders.

As the people of God, we should pray each day for our leaders, at all levels, whether or not we align with their political leanings.  Each day we should pray for our leaders to govern with righteousness and justice, with compassion and understanding.  Each day we should pray for our leaders to be sensitive to the needs of the poor and the outcasts, for those without voice.  Each day we should pray that our leaders would lead according to God’s will.  And each day we should pray for our leaders to know and walk with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

May we be faithful in our daily prayers for our leaders so that God’s blessings and justice and righteousness may touch the land.  May we ever lift up our leaders so that God’s glory may shine through them.


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Promises

In today’s psalm is the root of the promise that our faith rests upon.  God promises David that a descendant of his will always be on the throne of Zion, God’s chosen resting place.  Jesus was the last in David’s human line.  The resurrected Jesus completes the ‘forever’ part of God’s promise as He leads us from beside God’s throne.

In Jesus we see God’s love poured out as He kept this promise.  This should be no surprise as God always keeps His promises.  Just as God chose Zion, through Jesus Christ He chooses you and me as well.  We are each God’s beloved children.  But sometimes we forget that.  Sometimes we turn our relationship with God into a relationship like our other human relationships.  Sometimes our relationship with God digresses to bartering, dealing, if-then statements.  If I go to church, then God will…  If I help my neighbor, then God will…

But God does not promise us an if-then relationship.  He does not love us more or less based on our actions, words, and deeds.  He simply loves us.  He simply loves us.  The gift of salvation offered through Jesus Christ is God’s unmerited, no-strings-attached, free gift to us, His children.

Jesus was and is the embodiment of God’s love.  This is why Jesus brought and offered this gift for you and me.  When we are tempted to slip back into the wheeling and dealing relationship, we must remember Jesus’ example of perfect obedience to the Father’s will.  When we want to pick and choose when to be a Christian, we must remember how Jesus loved all who came to Him, no matter the time of day or season.  And when we question, when we falter, we must remember Jesus’ promise as well: I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.

Scripture reference: Psalm 132: 10-18