pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Astonished

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 44: “While he was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”.

All of us like order and rules. Having structure to our lives brings us a sense of comfort and peace. When we know what to do and what to expect, it removes the stress and the anxiety of the unknown. I think that is why it is hard for many of us to fully trust the Holy Spirit to lead our lives. You just never know how and where the Spirit might lead.

Peter was born and raised into the Jewish faith and worldview. He, like many of the apostles, we’re steeped in the Jewish faith with all of its laws and requirements. The Jews were the chosen people – the only chosen people. But in a vision God revealed to Peter that all people were clean because all people were created by God. Then, earlier in Acts 10 and just after this vision, the Spirit leads Peter to go to the house of a Gentile. With some reluctance, Peter goes. This is where we meet up with Peter today in our passage. As if to prove that God is still fully in charge we read, “While he was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”. Right in the middle of his sermon, the Holy Spirit invades. Did not wait for him to finish. Did not wait for the altar call. Just bam! The Holy Spirit goes to work and enters people who are Gentiles. No circumcision, no profession of faith, no nothing. What about all the rules and requirements?

The Holy Spirit totally disrupted Peter’s understanding of the world, telling him there are no clean and unclean, no Jew and Gentile in God’s world. And then the Spirit tosses aside the “that’s just how we do things around here” traditions and comes to dwell in the hearts of these Gentiles. Peter and the believers who came with him are astonished.

When we really allow the Holy Spirit free reign in our lives, then we too will be astonished. May it be so today.


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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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A Right Relationship

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse Two: I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery.

Today’s passage is perhaps one of the most familiar in all of the Old Testament.  They are but ten of the hundreds of laws or commandments found in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.  Yet we know these ten fairly well.  They are on countless Sunday School room walls and most Christians can name a majority of the ten.  They are mostly a list of “shall not” laws with a couple “do” laws in there too.  They are partly about our relationship with God (1-4) and partly about our relationship with each other (5-10).

Maybe the Ten Commandments are well-known because of their timing.  Maybe they are well-known because of the dramatic fashion in which they are given.  Maybe they are top-of-the-list because of their simplicity.  When Moses receives the Ten Commandments on top of the mountain, it is the first time that God has given laws to live by.  This is significant.  The scene below the mountain was powerful too.  God has just led them to victory, a violent storm rages on top of the mountain, and Moses speaks with God in the storm and lives.  And the Ten Commandments are pretty straight forward.  They are simple enough to be taught in Sunday School classes – even for the little ones.

But ultimately, I think the Ten Commandments are significant because of what they begin.  Verse two reads, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”.  For the initial Israelites, they were literally brought out of physical slavery in Egypt.  But quickly for them and for each generation since, right up and through us, the slavery we face is sin.  The Ten Commandments represent the beginning of a personal relationship with God.  This personal relationship is essential if we are to ultimately conquer sin and death.  The first four commandments, in particular, establish the relationship we must have with God.  These must be kept in order to stay in a right relationship with God.  These are summarized in Deuteronomy Six and again by Jesus – love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  The next six commandments cover how we are to live in a right relationship with each other.  These are summarized in Leviticus 19 and by Jesus – love your neighbor as self.  The Ten Commandments begin our right relationship with God and each other.  May we honor the Ten Commandments as we live out our love for God and for neighbor each day.


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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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Willing and Obedient

Reading: Romans 4: 1-5 & 13-17

Today’s passage centers around the faith of Abraham.  He obediently followed God’s call and lead in his life multiple times.  For me, the ultimate test of Abraham’s faith came up on the mountain as God instructed him to sacrifice his son.  It was the only son born to a very aged Abraham and Sarah and God was leading him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice.  Abraham’s actions demonstrated great faith and trust in God, not only in this case, but over and over again.  Because of this belief in and trust in God, “it was credited to him as righteousness”.

Paul is wrestling in today’s text with the concept of faith based upon belief and grace versus faith based upon the Law and works.  Paul argues that it is our faith that makes us righteous and he holds Abraham up as the example.  Paul argues that the Law, or following all the rules for us today, cannot make us right before God.  His logic is that we cannot possibly keep all of the Law all of the time, therefore, the Law can only ultimately bring condemnation.  Paul puts forth the idea that only when we live by faith are we made righteous because only then does grace come into play.  Only when our salvation rests solely upon God’s free gift of grace are we able to claim the promise of eternal life.

As we consider this example, we must ask ourselves: do we live a life of faith or do we try to live a life of following the rules?  In our day to day lives, do we seek God’s will and guidance or do we live a faith that entails checking off the boxes as we do this or that?  Abraham demonstrated a faith that I find hard to fathom.  Could I lead my son up the mountain knowing that God was calling me to offer him up as a sacrifice when we got to the top?  It is a faith often outside of my understanding.  Yet it is precisely the type of faith that we are called to.  It is a faith that allows God to work through us instead of us working for God.  There is a huge difference between God leading my life and me leading my life.

Lord, help me to be more open to your leading, to your guidance, to your ways.  Make me a willing and obedient servant,  work through me, great Jehovah!


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Salvation and Love

Reading: Galatians 6: 1-6

In Galatians Paul is writing to a church that is beginning to fracture from within.  From the outside the people are seeing the church as contradictory and unattractive.  Over the many years since this has been a frequent occurrence.  As time rolls along we just find different things to fight about while the secular world usually watches with held breath.

The Galatian church was basically arguing over membership requirements.  Those with Jewish roots were arguing that all makes must be circumcised and that the Torah Law must be followed.    To these folks one must become a good Jew before one could become a Christian.  This ‘follow all our rules so you can be just like us’ attitude is nothing new.  There was a time when women had no voice and later no leadership roles in the church.  There was a time when all of the churches were very homogeneous and races and ethnicities did not mix.

On the other end of the spectrum Paul found those who did and allowed almost anything.  Under the beliefs that God alone should judge and that God is all about love, they were living lives without any constraints.  As long as they did not harm others with their actions they thought God would forgive anything.  This approach, if taken just one step further, can have disastrous results.

Paul counseled a middle ground.  He first established that salvation comes only through the saving work of Jesus on the cross.  There is no rule we can follow and no action we can take to save ourselves.  Following all the rules and laws in the world will not save us.  Doing good act after good act all the days of our lives will not save us.  We are saved through faith in Christ alone.  Paul also balanced this with Christ’s guidelines for our life. We are to daily take up our own cross to follow Him.  We are to do the things Jesus did: love God above all else, love neighbor as self, serve all of our brothers and sisters as living sacrifices.  Paul believed that out of the saving relationship we find through Christ that we would be led to live as Christ lived.  This day may we each take up our cross and follow in Jesus’footsteps, being love lived out to our God and to all we meet.


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Relationship

God’s law is perfect and trustworthy.  It gives wisdom and strength.  The law offers a way to right relationship with God.  For the Israelites the centerpiece of the law was the Ten Commandments.  The ten form a covenant.  They cover how to relate to God, to each other, and give the basics on how to live in community.  True, the ten commandments are a little general, especially on the last part.  There is a lot they do not cover, but they do provide a basic framework.

Over the year a lot was added to the original ten.  By the time Jesus arrived the ‘law’ had grown to over 600 rules.  It was not only cumbersome, it was really hard to know all of them, never mind follow them all.  Religion for the Jews had become more about following the rules than about following God and Jesus was more than happy to speak out about this fact.

In an attempt to trap Him, the Pharisees asked Jesus what the most important command was.  In typical Jesus fashion, He gave them more than what was asked of Him – He gave them the two most important.  He said the first was to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Jesus added that the second was like it – love your neighbor as self.  And for emphasis, Jesus also noted for them that all the other laws hung upon these two.

In these two commands, Jesus draws them and us back to what truly matters: relationship.  To truly believe and follow we must be in a right relationship with both God and with our fellow man.  This day may we all seek to live in right relationship with both.

Scripture references: Psalm 19: 7-14 and Exodus 20: 1-17