pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Way of Life

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verses 21 and 22: “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you…”

As Jesus begins to unpack how he is the fulfilment of the Law, over and over he uses the two statements above. The “you have heard…” part refers to the specific law and the “but I say to you” is Jesus unpacking said Law. In this space we find ourselves between religion (that which can be legalistic and intellectual) and faith (that which is guided by the heart and can be more fluid). Put another way, before Jesus we had religion; in Jesus we find faith. A great example of this would be Jesus’ frequent clashes with the religious leaders over his habit of healing on the Sabbath. The Law said not to work on the Sabbath. Healing was work. Yet Jesus’ compassion led him to do this work on the Sabbath several times.

After a sermon on stewardship and tithing a pastor was approached by a parishioner. He appreciated the call to give to God. But he had a question or two. He wanted to know about exactly what amount does the 10% come from. He asked, “Is that after I pay for my new car, my new phone, my mortgage, and all my other necessities? Or is it based on some other figure”? A legalistic religion looks for loopholes and ways to limit obedience to the minimum letter of the law.

In our reading the first law is “Do not murder”. For most people this is a pretty easy command to keep if you are only willing to take it at its surface level. After the “but I say to you” the command becomes much more difficult to fully obey. Jesus begins by saying that we cannot even be angry with another. He also adds that this means to not speak harshly of another. Certainly this does not include gossip and slander and half truths, does it? Of course it does. Jesus backs this up by saying not to come before God if you have an unsettled disagreement still out there. What was that about “forgive us our trespasses just as…”? Jesus concludes unpacking this command by telling us to make things right with our adversaries. When one dives down deep with Jesus and looks at the heart behind “do not murder”, one begins to see the way of life that God calls us to.

Take some time to consider the depth behind the commands on adultery, divorce, and oaths. If you find these helpful to your walk of faith, consider working your way on through verse 48. That one is the real clincher. May our faith deepen more and more as we delve into the faith that Jesus taught and practiced.

Prayer: Dear God, what a challenge. In some ways religion is easier than faith – just tell me what to do. But you call me to faith – to living out a heart connection with you. Walk with me into the depths of your love, O God. For there I begin to see and understand what Jesus is unpacking in passages like today’s. Thank you for calling me to more. Amen.


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Saying “Yes”

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse Two: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”.

In some ways, Paul’s view of ministry differs from ours today. He lists a handful of things that are commendable: trouble, hardship, distress, imprisonment, sleepless nights, hunger. While we are sometimes willing to endure these things for our faith, we do not often intentionally put ourselves out there to experience these things. Yet many people do endure these things. Today we journey home from a mission trip where we met lots of folks who experience these things on a daily basis.

Paul also gives us another list. He offers commendation for purity, patience, kindness, love, and truthful speech. These are characteristics that we all want to possess and share with others. These are the traits that we want to be known for. Yet, as Paul also acknowledges, we most often find ourselves between these two lists.

Paul shares that we usually find ourselves between bad and good reports, between being seen as genuine and as imposters, between dying and living, as sorrowful yet rejoicing, and as having nothing yet possessing everything. We often did find ourselves in the middle, tending towards one end or the other. We seek to be living for God, yet when we are honest, we spend a lot of time pursuing what we want and desire. It is a battle.

In verse two Paul writes, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. The key word is ‘now’. It is an important word. On our mission trips we usually end up centering on a phrase or expression that seems to encapsulate the trip. This year what became our central thought was saying “yes” to those opportunities that God gives us, to answer when He calls. Many of our youth and adults had opportunity to do so this week. Great blessings were poured out from heaven upon both us and those we worked with because of the yeses.

The time is now. Today God wants to bless you with His favor. Today God wants you to experience His salvation. Today and each day may we ever be open to the opportunity that God provides – whether in hardship or joy, whether in sorrow or kindness. May we too be willing to say yes to God. Amen.


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Praise

Reading: Psalm 148

Verses 1 and 7: “Praise the Lord from the heavens… Praise the Lord from the earth”.

Psalm 148 is a pretty all-inclusive list for doing one thing: praising the Lord.The Psalm begins and ends with these words.  Everything in between is a  call to do just that: praise the Lord!  The psalmist begins with the angels, then includes all of creation, including all of humanity.  Since God created every living (and non-living) thing, they all should praise the Lord.  But I think the psalmist is looking for more than an hour on Sunday morning or Saturday evening.  The Psalm is calling for much more.

So then, what does it look like for us to praise the Lord on a more consistent, more regular basis?  Prayer and the study of the Word are certainly ways that we can praise the Lord.  Even when we add these two disciplines to worship, I think we are falling short of what the psalmist has in mind.  It seems that the psalmist is calling for all of our time to be a praise to the Lord.  How then do we do this?  By striving for all we do, say, think, and pray for to be things that bring glory and honor to God.  In the way we conduct ourselves, in the ways we treat one another, in the ways we offer our time, talents, and resources…  Our very being and our whole life can be praise to the Lord.

Within us we carry the hope, joy, love, and peace of the Lord.  In all we do, say, and are this day, may this be what people see as we live each day as a praise to the Lord.


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Kingdom Fruit

Reading: Matthew 21: 42-46

Verse 42: The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Jesus transitions quickly from the parable of the tenants to today’s passage.  We recall that in this parable Jesus revealed that God is true owner of all and we are simply tenants.  In today’s passage, Jesus opens with a quote from Psalm 118. But before the quote, Jesus says to the chief priests and Pharisees, “Have you never read in the scriptures…”?  He transitions from God and the kingdom to claiming His own place in it.  He is proclaiming this role as He quotes from Psalm 118, saying, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.  Jesus’ implication is that the chief priests and Pharisees are rejecting Him but that He will still become the cornerstone of the church.

Yes, Jesus is giving it to the chief priests and Pharisees and many of us relish these scenes.  But, we must also evaluate our own faith and see where we place Jesus in our lives.  Is Jesus the cornerstone – that upon which all else stands?  Or is He in a room that we go to just in our times of need or want?  Is He the first and last consideration in all the decisions we make, in all of our words and actions?  Jesus wants to be our cornerstone.  Is that where He is in our lives?  If so, we will see kingdom fruit producing a deeper faith within us as well as the fruit that comes from sharing the good news with others.

The chief priests and Pharisees are not producing fruit.  More than anything, Jesus sees them and all of their man-made rules as barriers to people connecting with God.  He blatantly tells them, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce fruit”.  Ouch.

Are we people who are producing fruit?  To produce fruit, our words and actions must always draw people to Christ.  To produce fruit, we must be humble servants, allowing others to see the example set by Jesus as the way of life that we are all called to follow.  To produce fruit, our love must be Jesus’ love – a live for one and all that places self last.  In all we think and do and say, may we love God first and neighbor second.  Then we will produce much kingdom fruit.


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Say It Well

Reading: Psalm 105: 37-45

Verse 45: …that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws.

This last section of Psalm 105 recounts the exodus from Egypt.  The Israelites left Egypt “laden with silver and gold” and headed out into the desert with a cloud for shade in the day and a pillar of fire for light at night.  God provided for their physical needs with quail and manna and He brought water from a rock.  God led them into a land that other nations had toiled over and developed and built up.  God blessed the chosen people on their exit from slavery in Egypt right up to their entrance into the Promised Land.

It is good for a people to tell their story.  This Psalm that would have been sung in worship reminds the people of what God has done for them out of His great love for them.  We too sing songs that remind us of our faith story.  Whether it is a classic like “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Amazing Grace” or if it is a more modern song like “Trading My Sorrows” or “Come As You Are”, we sing songs of praise to remember His love and His actions in our bigger faith story.  We may know, for example, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins but songs that remind us also remind us of His great love for us.

To be reminded encourages us and strengthens our faith.  It helps us to grow in and to deepen our relationship with God.  It is why we hug and kiss our spouse and children each morning and night, saying “I love you” each time.  They know it but it sure does us good to say it and to hear it.  It is the same when we sing praises to the Lord.  God may know we love Him and we may know God loves us, but it sure does us good to sing it.

There is also a second benefit.  After listing how God gave, God brought, God provided, … the psalmist writes, “…that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws”.  This is also why we must sing of His mighty acts and of His love for us.  It reminds us to say “I love you” back with how we live our lives.  May we say it well today.