pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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See

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-7 and 15

Verse 15: And I, in righteousness, will see your face.

The psalmist is confident that he will see God.  In his cry for an answer to his prayer there is evidence of a relationship that has been established that leads him to really believe that God will answer.  In a similar way, the psalmist believes that the faithful life he has led will allow him to see God.  In verse fifteen he writes, “And I, in righteousness, will see your face”.

As we live out our lives as Christians, we hope one day to see God face to face as well.  This influences how we live our daily lives.  We seek to be righteous in our living, but we are not always as holy and righteous as we would like to be.  This is one of the reasons that God sent Jesus.  Ultimately, Jesus came to die for our sins.  He also came to be an example.  In Jesus, we see God in the flesh.  We see God’s love embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus.  As we read the Bible and allow it to become part of our living, we begin to see God face to face.

We also have the opportunity to see God in each other.  As we go about our daily lives, there are moments where we can be the words and hands and feet of Jesus to another.  In these moments, they can come face to face with God and His love through us.  And sometimes we are the ones blessed to see the face of God.  Sometimes, when we are giving of ourselves and being a good follower of Jesus Christ, suddenly we see God in the face of the one we are talking with or serving.  We experience what it means when Jesus said, “Whenever you do this for one of the least of these…”

Yes, one day we hope to literally see God face to face.  But until then, may we see God in the Word and in the living out of our faith, as we seek to daily show God’s love to others.


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Trusting

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-7

Verse One: Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry.

The psalmist cries out to God for an answer to his prayer: “Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry”.  He asks God to “give ear” to what he requests.  Then he adds a reminder to “see what is right”.  He wants God to not only listen and to pay attention but to see it his way as well.  This is a familiar prayer pattern for most of us today.  We want God to hear our prayers and to answer as we have requested because, as you can see God, we are right and correct in what we are asking for.

To back up his case and to help God act on his behalf and in the way that he desires, the psalmist builds his case.  He invites God to examine him and to test him.  He is confident that God will not find any sin in his life.  He reminds God that he has kept “the words of your lips” and has not followed the ways of the violent.  The psalmist reminds God that he has “held to your paths”.  Some of the time we also add similar reminders to our prayers.  We add things like: went to church each Sunday, read Bible every day, served at the rescue mission last month… We remind God that we have not gossiped or caroused too much.  We also build our case and on occasion we may even pray the “if You’ll only…” prayer.

The psalmist closes this section by again asking God to hear and answer.  He requests that God would “show the wonder of your great love”.  It’s almost as if he were reminding God of how much God loves us as a way to prompt God to show it by answering his prayers.  It is an “if you really love me” kind of prayer.  We too go here once in a while.  We too imply that because God loves us, He should answer as we desire.

All of this seems to both bring God down to our level and to elevate our needs above God’s understanding.  God knows our needs.  God has plans to prosper us.  May we bring our humble and honest prayers simply to God, trusting that He will hear and trusting that He will act according to His will and to His plans for us.


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A Cup of Water

Reading: Matthew 10: 40-42

Verse 42: And if anyone gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple…

After reading today’s passage, I think about how we sometimes wrestle with who we serve.  In Jesus’ words we hear that if we receive Him, we receive God – the one who sent Jesus.  But if we only see Him as a prophet or teacher or just some good guy, then that is all we receive too.  Then the last line shifts as Jesus speaks of offering a cup of cold water to another.  When we extend the love of Christ to others, we are told that we will not lose our reward – eternal life will remain ours.

The closing verse today reads, “And if anyone gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple…”. Today I am on a bus headed home from southern Texas.  Our six teams of high school youth and the adults with them served six families in need.  Each family was a victim of a natural disaster and did not receive government assistance for a variety of reasons.  All were immigrant families so language was a barrier.  All are barely getting by.  Three teams put new roofs that these families could not afford in a thousand years.  One team hung, finished, and painted new drywall.  One team ran new wire then hung and mudded new drywall.  The sixth team did a myriad of projects.  It was offering a cup of cold water to these families in southern Texas.  The materials and labor were certainly a huge blessing to each family.

But the deeper blessing comes to the ones who extended the cup of cold water.  Being exposed to and becoming aware of the needs of others opens us up to so much more than we know in our sheltered worlds.  We learn to love others more and to value what we have less.  A simple question about what to do with a dollar we found in the parking lot on day one blossomed into $150 gift cards for five families and a new stove for the sixth.  It is indeed a deep blessing that we were changed ourselves as we chose to extend the love of Christ to others.  As Jesus said, now go and do likewise.


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I Am Sending You

Reading: Matthew 10: 1-23

Verse 16: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.

Jesus is sending out the twelve to “drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease”.  In this passage today, they are being sent to fellow Jews.  Jesus calls these the “lost sheep” – tying back to why He had compassion on the crowds in Matthew 9:36.  The twelve are first to preach that “the kingdom of heaven is near” and then to heal diseases, raise the dead, and drive out demons.  The authority Jesus gives them to perform miracles will lend credence to the message they bring.

As we go out into the world, we go for the same reasons.  We go to share the good news of Jesus Christ as we work to heal a broken world.  Each of us who knows Jesus as Lord and Savior has a story to tell that will be good news for others.  Each of us can love and serve others too.  We may not be able to work miracles, but by caring for basic needs and by giving of our time and talents we do bring healing.  It is through our loving acts of service that we too gain footing to share Jesus with the lost.

Jesus warned the disciples: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”.  There is a defenselessness that comes to mind with this statement.  It requires trust in the Shepherd.  He goes on to advise them to be on guard against men.  Jesus warns them that persecution is going to be a part of the journey.  He also tells them that the Spirit will be with them.  The Holy Spirit will give them the words to say.  And then Jesus encourages them, stating that “he who stands firm to the end will be saved”.  Keep the faith, I am with you.

We too are sometimes sent to people or places that make us feel like sheep among wolves.  We too must trust into the lead, guidance, and protection of the Holy Spirit.  In those uncomfortable or outside our comfort zone times, if we keep the faith the Spirit will give us just the right words to say as well.  May we be like the twelve, trusting He who sends, going forth to share the good news and to bring healing to our broken world.  May our light draw others in to Jesus Christ – the One who saves.


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Common Good

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse Seven: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Imagine the top graduate from culinary school deciding she wanted to go be a bank teller.  Imagine the college graduate with a degree in electrical engineering deciding he wanted to go mow lawns.  Imagine the gifted accountant deciding she did not want to be on the Finance team because they meet the night she likes to go to the grocery store.  Imagine the Dad that is awesome with middle School boys deciding he would rather join the golf league on Wednesday nights.

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”.  The Spirit gives each of us gifts (or talents).  Verses eight through ten lists off some of these gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, tongues…  Verse eleven reads, “to each one”.  It does not say gifts are only given to some people, but to all people.  When one looks out over a congregation, one realizes that there is a very gifted bunch of folks sitting there.  As we each move through life, most of us come to know what our gift is.  Sometimes it is our passion that leads us to our gift and sometimes we ‘Didn’t our gift by trial and error.

Throughout it’s 2000+ year history, the church has been built by the gifts of millions of people.  Some are famous – Paul, Peter, Martin Luther, John Wesley… – but most are just common people, being used by God.  This is where most of us fit in.  We do not have extraordinary gifts, we are just good at and passionate about something.  Paul writes in our passage about the church being one body with many parts.  That is my church.  It is probably your church too.  Those gifted musicians make up a pretty good choir or praise team.  Those gifted leaders and teachers are running a pretty good VBS.  That gifted group of gardeners has the church flowers and plants looking nice again.  That collection of carpenters and handimen and business owners we call the Trustees sure did a great job on the remodel.

Verse seven ends with: “for the common good”.  It’s what it is all about.  For the good of each other, for the good of the church, for the good of the community, for the good of our lost and broken world.  May we all joyously share the gifts we have been blessed with for the common good.


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Work

Reading: John 17: 1-5

Verse Four: I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You have Me to do.

It was quite a night for Jesus and His disciples.  They gathered together one last time.  It has been a full night: the Passover meal with the institution of communion added in; the washing of the disciples’ feet; the predictions of denial and betrayal; and, the promise of the Holy Spirit.  Three chapters in John are dedicated to Jesus’ farewell discourse.  And then Jesus prays.  These are His last words in John before He is arrested in the garden.  This prayer us our reading today.

In verse four, Jesus says, “I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You have Me to do”.  He has completed the work God gave Him to do.  The work encompasses teaching us what to do as disciples of Jesus Christ.  As a good teacher, Jesus taught by example.  His work included teaching how to live as a child of God in a fallen world.  This certainly helps us see the world and those in it as God sees them, not as the world sees them.  Jesus’ task also included showing us how to be at work in the world.  This meant feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the orphans and widows, caring for the sick, welcoming the stranger and the outcast.  It is being the very hands and feet of Jesus in our world.  The work also included healing.  This too is part of our work.  We pray for other’s physical healing.  We offer words of comfort and encouragement and lift up prayers for emotional and spiritual healing.  We also work to bring healing and restoration by fighting to end injustice and oppression and prejudice when and where we can.  All of this is the work Jesus completed when here on earth.  It is the work He commands us to continue.

Verse three reads, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent”.  Eternal life comes only through knowing God and Jesus Christ.  We come to know Him n the Word.  We come to know Him through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We also come to know Him through those we encounter in the world as we work as His hands and feet.  May we know Him well today in our study, in our prayer time, in our encounters with the Spirit, and in those we meet.