pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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To God What Is God’s

Reading: Matthew 22: 18-22

Verse 20: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

There are certain times when we must give something.  In our real life worlds there are times when I must give hours to my job.  There are times when I must give time to my school work.  There are times when I must give attention to my health.  These are but a few of the demands on our time.  I also must give love to my family and friends, compassion to those in need that I encounter, kindness to the stranger.  And lastly I must give money to the cell phone company and to the grocery store, to the restaurant and the university.  There are many things that demand our time, our emotions, and our money.  Although many of these are “required”, to decide how and where we “spend” all that we have left takes some serious prioritizing.

In today’s passage, Jesus is faced with a tough question.  To answer one way will anger the religious leaders; to answer the other way will anger the political leaders.  It appears to be a no-win situation.  At times our choices on how and where we spend our time, emotions, and money can feel the same way.  To all gathered there that day, Jesus gives an amazing answer.  He says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”.  If this coin stamped with the image and title of Caesar is due to Caesar, give it to Caesar.  For the most part we willingly follow this concept today – paying our bills and taxes to whom they are due.

The second half can be a bit harder.  Yes, I can give that one hour on Sunday morning and that hour once a month to my committee.  And, sure, I can give $10 a week to the offering.  Well, okay, I’ll even go once a year to cook and serve the meal at the rescue mission.  Others far exceed giving these 70 hours and roughly $500 a year to their image-bearer.  Many in both groups wrestle with the question of giving enough.  They realize how much God gives them and they wrestle with what they are giving to Him.  It is a good wrestling.  God will place upon our hearts the call for our time, our emotions, our money.  It is a personal decision born out of a personal relationship with our God.  We are made in God’s image, blessed by His love and care.  This day, what shall we give?

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He Died for Us

Reading: Romans 5: 6-8

Verse Six: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

To me, today’s three verses speak to the depth of God’s love for all of humanity.  The key words are ‘love’ and ‘all’.  It is an amazing, mighty, almost unfathomable love that would send His Son, knowing He would die a painful death.  And speaking of unfathomable – Jesus died for sinners, for you and me, plus all those who hate God and those who deny God and those who refuse to acknowledge God’s existence…  To die for the sinners we all are is one thing.  To die for the haters, the atheists, the non-believers… is a whole other level of ‘all’.

Verse six reads, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly”.  In His infinite wisdom, God initiated His plan to save us at ‘just the right time’.  God’s hand is often at work in the world.  Sometimes it happens in big ways, like this, and at other times God’s hand is at work in smaller ways, like the time that person said that thing to you at that time in your life.  There is another truth in this verse.  We are powerless.  Before the cross humanity was trapped in our sin and held captive by death.  But through the cross we find forgiveness and hope.  As Christ conquered sin and death, He opened the way for us too.  Through a personal relationship with Jesus we can claim salvation and eternal life.

In the next two verses, Paul returns to the idea of just who Christ died for.  He notes that maybe some would die for a good man.  I think some are even willing to die for a good cause.  But no one would be willing to die for an enemy or for a cause they do not believe in.  Jesus died for both.  “While we were sinners” – separated from God – He died for us.  That’s amazing, but it goes farther.  Jesus knew we would continue to sin.  He knew His death would not end sinning.  But He died anyway.  We, by our imperfect nature, are prone to sin.  And Jesus died for each and every one of us anyway.  Thanks be to God.


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Rest

Reading: Genesis 1:31 – 2:4a

Verse Three: God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it He rested.

As human beings and as children of God, we are created in the image of God.  We are to model the patterns that God sets in the Bible.  We try to follow the examples that Jesus, God in the flesh, set for us in the Gospels.  In our day to day lives we try to love as Jesus loved as we seek to follow His example of ministry.  Hard as it may be to live as Jesus lived, often times we are better at this than we are at following today’s model for our lives.

After spending six days creating the world, God looks over His “very good” work.  He is pleased with what He has created.  We are pretty good at modeling these two parts of today’s passage.  We are good at working and producing and making.  At times we can even be pleased with our labors and can take pride in what we have accomplished.  Clearly we can see in this passage, and throughout the Bible, that we are created to work, to use our bodies and minds in labor.  We are also called throughout Scripture to give our very best in all we do, so our labors should produce things, ideas, … that are also “very good”.

“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it He rested”.  The Sabbath, or seventh day, is holy because on this day God rested.  This is the model we find hard to follow.  We often are just as bad at taking rest as we are good at always working.  To work and work and work some more is how we respond to our culture of ‘more’ and how we try to attain ‘success’ as defined by the secular world.  It is a sad treadmill that​ we too easily climb onto.  The treadmill never leads to a destination but simply keeps on churning.  The world is happy to allow us to work and work and work.  But we are created in God’s image.  On the seventh day God made it holy and He rested.  In rest we are renewed and refreshed and recharged.  In rest we are drawn closer to God.  May we each find our Sabbath this week – our time and place of rest where God can minister to us.


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Be in the Word.

Reading: Luke 24: 22-27

Verse 27: … He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Jesus has just been present to these two followers as they expressed their emotions concerning what has taken place over the last few days.  In today’s section, a still ‘hidden’ Jesus gives these two a great study that arches through and over the scriptures that make up our Old Testament and brings them right to the current moment.  Jesus begins this great teaching with what is almost an admonishing: “How foolish you are and how slow of heart”.  Just as He was often with the disciples, so too is He with these two: saddened with their lack of understanding and insight.  Jesus spent three years teaching and being with the disciples and His followers and…

Jesus does not linger long here though.  He jumps right into the Scriptures and “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself”.  As they walked along the remainder of the seven mile journey to Emmaus, Jesus unpacks the Scriptures for them and connects all the Law and prophets to the Messiah, to himself.  It had to be amazing to experience how the whole Bible connects both to the Messiah and to itself.  It must have been wonderful to see how all of those individual books were part of one large story.  These two must have been astounded at this stranger’s teaching ability and knowledge.

And just think – all of this is available to you and I as well.  We have the Scriptures available to us – probably several copies.  It sits on the table or on our desk or on the nightstand.  We carry it with us and have instant access to it via our cell phones.  There are a ba-zillion reading plans, commentaries, studies, … out there to help us navigate through and to understand the Word of God.  When we regularly make the time to spend with the Word and when we invest in meditating on the Word, then we will be like these two walking along the road: we will encounter the risen Christ.  He is alive.  When we spend time with the Word of God, we encounter the risen Jesus there.  Be in the Word.  Encounter Jesus.


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Beneath the Surface

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 6-7

Verse 7: Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Today’s passage fits our world to a tee.  Modern society gloms onto trends and rising numbers and shiny images like never before.  Relationships across real life and social media platforms are a hundred thousand friends wide and as shallow as the teardrop that never falls.  As a whole, we prefer to stay up on the surface level because it is less commitment and there is less risk of being hurt or having to get involved.

Samuel illustrates this today.  He sees the oldest son, Eliab, and is impressed.  Must have been tall and handsome and well-built.  Must have looked pretty kingly.  Samuel thinks Eliab is the one.  But then God delivers the famous line: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.  Son after son passed by.  There is the definite implication made that we too should look past appearances, past the surface level, and get down into what really is important, to the core of the person: to their heart.

Of course, this is difficult.  I think this is so because it costs us our most precious commodity: time.  It is so much easier to just take a glance, to make a quick judgment or decision, and to move on to the next choice, the next option, the next person, the next sound bite.

But if we look at our story today and if we look at all of Jesus’ interactions in the Gospels, nothing is quick and easy. God did not settle for Eliab or even any of the other six sons who were present.  Jesus did not settle for a quick yes or no answer so that He could move on to the next need or so that He could give the next parable.  God invested time and waited for David to arrive – the one who had a heart for God.  Jesus took the time to see each person for who they were, to really understand the need they brought, and to patiently offer them all that He could offer.

In our busy lives it is a challenge to slow down, to look beneath the surface, to invest in each other.  In our faith, we are called to live in community, to love one another deeply (warts and all), and to walk alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ through the good and the bad. To do so, we must live beneath the surface.  May we delve deep this day.


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Trials and Temptations

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Jesus prepares for His ministry with a period of testing.  He fasts for forty days and is physically weak.  Satan comes then and tempts Jesus with food, trust, and power.  Food represents both our basic needs and our desires.  Is our life about pursuing these things and then giving what’s left to God?  Or do we first give to God, knowing that He loves us and will provide for all we need?  The second temptation partly involves trust.  We we step out or step forward, trusting that God will have our back?  And perhaps before this first step, did we seek God’s discernment and direction or did we just make our own plan?  When seek God’s will and when we obey His lead, there is no fear or lack of trust.  Power is the third temptation.  Worship Satan and all the world is yours.  We like to be in charge.  What a temptation!

In our own journey of faith, we are often tempted and often out to the test.  In our giving, do we obediently give our tithe or volunteer for that cause that pulls at our heart strings?  Or do we focus on what “has” to be done first or pay all the bills and then see if we have time or money left for God?  In those moments when the Holy Spirit nudges us to get involved or to offer our talents or to engage the stranger, do we trust that God will give us the words to say or will show us what to do?  Or do we apply excuses or rationalize away the opportunity?  And when we look at our priorities, do they reveal that God is #1 in our lives?  Or does ‘God’ fall somewhere down the list?  If one looked at our lives, they should see how we are investing our lives in God’s work in the world and in growing our own personal faith.  Is that what they would see?

Just as Satan tempted Jesus to rely on something other than God, he will also tempt us.  How we respond to or react to the above questions and scenarios indicated how successful Satan may be at drawing us away from God.  In this season of Lent, where we too are preparing ourselves for ministry, may the Lord our God strengthen and encourage us each day as we strive to walk as disciples of Jesus each and every day.


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Each Day

Reading: Romans 13: 11-14

Paul writes to the church in Rome with some urgency.  As time has elapsed since Jesus’ resurrection, they need some encouragement.  Early believers thought Jesus would return soon – surely in their lifetimes.  But as year after year ticks by, their mindset began to change.  For many, “when” became “will” Jesus return?  Some in the church in Rome have begun to drift.  Paul’s words to “wake up” reflect this idea.  Paul writes, “our salvation in nearer that when we first believed”.  While is is true for the Roman church, it is also true for us.

Paul calls the church in Rome to faithful living each day.  “The night is nearly over” implies again that again that Christ is coming soon.  Or at least that they should return to living that way.  He urges them to put aside sin and to “put on the armor of light”.  The people must have been straying a but from the faith.  The list of actions Paul mentions are things more common to secular Roman culture.  Paul is calling the church away from this lifestyle and back to following Christ faithfully each day.

Living today we too have much that we can turn to for pleasure and gratification.  Just like the Romans, we too can engage in wild living and a loose lifestyle.  The more modern temptations of the TV screen and internet are readily available and offer a degree of privacy.  Even more private are our thoughts of jealousy and judgment and envy and freed that can so easily pop up and cause us to sin in our hearts.  Our focus on faithful living day by day can be quite a challenge.

So, Paul’s words speak to us as well.  We must constantly be aware of the efforts of Satan and work daily to stay out of “darkness”.  We must always be ready, always seeking ways to be in the “light” instead.  It is a daily battle.  It is a daily choice.  Each day, may we also “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”.  If we begin each day in Christ, our hearts and minds are better prepared to meet the assaults of the day.  We are better prepared to honor God with our choices and decisions.  Strengthen and encourage us each day, O Lord our God.