pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Strong and Loving

Reading: Psalm 62: 9-12

Verses 11 and 12: “O God, you are strong… O Lord, you are loving”.

There is a shift as we move into the second part of our reading from Psalm 62.  Verses five through eight were all about placing our trust in God and today’s passage begins by reminding us of our limits and shortcomings as human beings.  The psalmist reminds us that no matter how rich or poor we think we are, no matter how important or lowly we think we are, it does not matter because we are simply a breath.  Soon we will be no more.  For the psalmist, this means that all of our hope and trust must be in God alone.  The things of this world and our pride will not last and they will not save us.

The Psalm reminds us that we are all equally powerless before God.  Even though we know deep down that we really cannot control much in this life and that when our time comes we cannot delay it in any way, we still turn to things like riches and position to determine our worth.  We also tend to compare ourselves to others to feel value.  And too often when we feel that we do not compare well, we turn to judging others as a means to elevate ourselves.  Things have not changed too much since the Psalm was written.

Our passage today comes near to a close with these words: “O God, you are strong… O Lord, you are loving”.  In the face of our pettiness and frailty, we are reminded of the eternal truths of God.  God remains strong and loving in all ways and at all times.  When we can choose to focus on God’s goodness and strength and love, then we can rest content in who we are as a child of God.  When we know God in this way, the things of this world pale.  Yes, we are but a breath, but we are a breath that has been breathed by God.

As our passage closes, it speaks of rewarding us accordingly.  When we walk this life with a deep and abiding trust in God’s strength and love, then we are assured of our eternity with God.  Our future does not get any better than that!  Each and every day may we trust into the only thing that truly lasts – the Lord our God.

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Gifts, Love, Strength

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 3-9

Verse Five: “For in Him you have been enriched in every way”.

Paul is writing to a church he loves.  He writes to them to strengthen and encourage them as they live amongst a society that loves power, position, and money.  This sounds like the setting for many of our churches today.  The church in Corinth is apparently being a little judgmental and is having some disagreements within.  The church is also failing to treat all of its members equally as the wealthier members are being given better treatment than the poorer members.  This also might be a thing or two that we struggle with in our churches today.

Into the current reality, Paul speaks some Gospel truths.  He begins by thanking God for the grace that they have been given.  It is a grace that has fallen on one and all.  Paul then goes on to write, “For in Him you have been enriched in every way”.  Here Paul is speaking of both the spiritual gifts that each member has been given as well as of the strength that they can find in Jesus Christ.  In reminding them of grace, Paul is reminding them that God gives grace to all people equally.  Just as God gives grace freely to all people, God also loves all people equally as His beloved children – not loving this special person more and “that” person less.  In reminding them that each has a spiritual gift, he is reminding them that all have value as each gift is needed for the building up of the body of Christ.  Paul also knows that at times the walk of faith will be hard.  So he also reminds them that God is faithful and will keep them to the end.

Just as this passage was a great reminder of the truths of God for the church in Corinth, so too is it a great reminder for us, the church today.  This passage calls us to use the gifts that we have been given, to love others just as Jesus loved all, to lean not into our own strength but to lean into God’s strength instead, and to rest upon the eternal faithfulness of God.  In and through all of these things may we find our path today, loving both God and neighbor, as we are each called to do.


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Listen, Remember

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3a

Verse One: “He summoned the elders, leaders, judges, … “This is what the Lord says..”

Joshua gathers up the leaders and officials of the twelve tribes of Israel – all the men in charge of the people.  In this farewell chapter Joshua wants to make clear to them the correct path forward.  Just as it has been for Joshua and for Moses before him, so too must God remain at the center of the lives of these leaders and those they lead.  So Joshua does not begin with his own words of wisdom, but with, “This is what the Lord says…”

God begins by reminding them of the story of Abraham.  It is a story they all surely know well but it is important to return and recall the stories often.  The story begins with “long ago” and connects to one of the most important people in their common history.  As God mentions Abraham, his wife Sarah certainly also comes to mind.  Both heard God’s promise that even at 100 they would have a baby.  The covenant would then be given: Abraham will be the father of a great nation.  Both Abraham and Sarah heard and lived out God’s promise in the covenant.  For the elders, leaders, judges, … the message is clear – listen to God and live out His covenant.

There is also a second message in our passage.  God reminds the people that they have worshiped foreign gods.  God connects not doing so with the promise of a new land.  For Abraham it was Canaan; for them it is the Promised Land.  In this warning against worshiping foreign gods, those gathered would recall the story of the golden calf and its consequences.  They would also recall the commandments brought down the mountain by Moses that told them to have no other gods or idols.  This message is also clear – love the Lord your God and Him alone.

These are both good reminders for us as well.  We live into the new covenant established in Christ Jesus, clinging to its promises as we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  May it be so each and every day.


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These Two Commandments

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-40

Key verse: Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?

The Pharisees come once again to test Jesus.  An expert in the Law asks Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law”?  The Pharisees are all thinking of the Ten Commandments.  There is much debate over which of the Ten is the most important.  Will Jesus pick one of them dealing with our relationship with God or will He pick one dealing with our relationship with each other?  In the Pharisees’ minds, it does not really matter which one Jesus picks.  They know that whichever one Jesus picks, He will alienate more people than He pleases.  They are seeking to once again corner Jesus and to discredit Him with those who follow or are considering following Him.

But Jesus does not pick #1 or #8 or #3.  Instead, Jesus picks from outside the Ten.  Jesus taps into another sacred piece of the Jewish faith.  Jesus quotes two verses, one from Deuteronomy that forms the central part of the twice-daily prayer called the Shema.  The Shema was a memorized prayer that was used each morning and evening.  When Jesus said to “love the Lord your God” with all your heart, soul, and mind, He would have struck a chord with all listening that day.  Smiles would have come to all the faces except the Pharisees.

But Jesus does not end here.  He adds a second commandment.  It is almost as well known.  He adds, “love your neighbor as yourself”.  There is much scriptural support for this choice as well.  Jesus is quoting from Leviticus and this theme runs throughout the scriptures and the Law.  To love all whom God created is a natural extension of loving the Creator.  Again, smiles on almost all of the faces.

Jesus ends with this summary statement: “All the Law and Prophets hang on these two”.  Follow these two commandments – love God and love neighbor – and all else will fall in line.  Jesus’ words are as true today as the day He spoke them.  Every day may we seek to love God and neighbor with all we are – heart, soul, mind, and strength.  May it be so!


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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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Endless Pursuit

Reading: Exodus 20: 18-20

Verse 18: When the people saw the thunder and lightning… they trembled in fear.

Moses has come full circle.  It was on this mountain that God gave Moses his call to go to Pharaoh to free the Israelites.  The Lord God had “heard their cries” and responded.  The plagues in Egypt were powerful displays of God’s might, but they were directed at someone else.  Since they have been freed, the Israelites have grumbled and complained, questioning both Moses and God all along the way.  And now Moses calls them to this mountain.  We hear the people’s reaction: “When the people saw the thunder and lightning… they trembled in fear”.  This God who passed over their first born, who parted the sea, who brought quail and manna and water – now He looks a bit angry stop that mountain.  They have grumbled and questioned all along.  It is not surprising that they are afraid and want to keep their distance.

Moses calls the people to the mountain to hear a word from God.  The people fear that they will die if God speaks directly to them, so they ask Moses to be the messenger.  Really, they are asking Moses to once again stand between them and God.  Through their fearful eyes all they can see is the smoke and thunder and lightning.  To them, the desert and even this mountain are a vast wasteland.  There is nothing there, yet they have survived.  Over and over and over again God has provided and led and protected them.  They have missed the lessons along the way: trust in God, keep the faith, live into being the chosen people, and, most importantly, God loves you.  Lost in their fear and negative attitude, they cannot see God for who and what God is.

At times we walk this road too.  We become so stuck in our situation or in the past that we cannot hear God’s word for us.  The word may be grace or love or forgiveness or peace or strength or hope.  Just as with the Israelites, though, God never gives up.  God keeps on pursuing us no matter what.  Thanks be to God for the endless pursuit of each of us, deeply rooted in His love.  Thanks be to God.


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Worthy Conduct

Reading: Philippians 1: 27-30

Verse 27: Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

In today’s passage, Paul encourages the church in Philippi to talk the talk and to walk the walk that Paul himself has talked and walked.  This is, of course, to follow Jesus – the original model.  Paul’s opening line today is both challenging and inspiring: “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.  What a charge Paul gives to the Philippians and to all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

Over the next few verses, Paul unpacks what it looks like to live this life worthy of Christ.  The first step is to “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man”.  Paul wants them to be unified under Christ and to hold fast to Jesus’ teaching and example.  He knows they are stronger together than as individuals so Paul encourages unity.  Next Paul tells them not to be frightened by those who oppose them.  In this world trouble will come.  In fact, Paul is writing them from prison.  He is under arrest for spreading the gospel.  Just as Paul’s trusts in and rests in God, he is encouraging the Philippians to do the same.

Lastly Paul says that it has been “granted” to them not only to believe on Christ but also to suffer for the gospel.  He says they do so “on behalf of Christ”.  Any and all suffering done on behalf of Jesus is a glorious witness to their faith in Christ.  It reflects the promise that He and we will overcome the world.  Just as Jesus willingly suffered on the cross for us, Paul gladly suffers for the sake of the gospel.  He encourages the Philippians and us to do the same.

These few verses pack a lot.  They are a great reminder of what worthy conduct looks like as we respond to our call to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To summarize: stand firm, do not fear, be a suffering servant.  All were modeled by Jesus.  May we go and do likewise.