pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Spirit of Unity

Reading: Romans 15: 4-7

Verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”.

In the early church in Rome they were struggling to all be the church. One dominant group, the Jewish Christians, were clinging to the Torah and other writings and teachings of the Jewish faith. The “newer” believers, who were called “Gentiles”, did not have this long history with God. Their entrance to the faith was based upon believing that Jesus was the Messiah and then being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in this order for the last two). The central issue in this early church came down to how much of the Hebrew scriptures… were essential to being a Christian. The answer to this question has played itself out for two thousand years.

The people in the church in Rome basically fell into three groups. One group wanted to use all of the Jewish scriptures… for “membership” in the church. One group did not want to use any of these as benchmarks for membership. In the middle was a group that felt some was useful and some was not essential. Paul, in general, fell into this middle group. This was quite a change for Paul. Up until pretty recently, Paul was known as Saul. As Saul he was a Pharisee – an uber follower of all the laws and Jewish teachings from the scriptures. In verse four we read Paul’s words to the church. Here we read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”. We can learn from all of the Hebrew scriptures… But that does not necessarily mean following every single law and writing. And it does not mean that we willy-nilly pick what we like and do not like. With endurance and with encouragement from the entirety of scripture, we find our way forward. This has been the Jewish practice for thousands of years. They learned that the black letters do not always tell us how to interpret and apply something written to another time or context. So they dig down deep and find the intent or the purpose or the meaning of the law… To say “we’ve always done it this way” and to insist that’s the only option is sometimes harmful and sometimes limits the fruit produced for the glory of God. But that is what the Jewish Christians were saying. They wanted the Gentiles to first become good Jews – follow all of the law, do things as we have always done them. The early church did find the way forward. A spirit of unity prevailed and led them to move forward, accepting one another. God was glorified, the church grew, Christ was taught and followed. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, as it was, so it remains. It is not always easy being the church. Made up of fallible human beings, we still struggle with what it means to simply love you and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us. Lead and guide us, as you did the early church, to be one in you. Amen.


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Freedom and Wholeness

Reading: Luke 8: 26-38

Verse 27: “When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man”.

Our story today is a story of fear. The demoniac is afraid of what Jesus might do to him and the townspeople are afraid of the same thing. Our story today follows another story of fear. In a raging squall the disciples fear they will die. Jesus is awakened and he calms the storm. He then asks the disciples, “Where is your faith”?

In verse 27 we read, “When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man”. The man is possessed by demons, so we can say he has no faith. Yet the demons recognize Jesus and the power that he has over them. If the man himself were able to speak, he would surely plead with Jesus to free him from this legion of demons. But the man is not in control. He has not been for a long time. Now the demons realize that they are not in control.

We read in our passage that at first the townspeople tried to chain the demon-possessed man hand and foot and kept him under guard. But the chains were broken over and over and then demons drove the man to live in isolation out in the “solitary places” – the tombs outside of town. The townspeople probably really appreciated this, except when they had a burial. Then they would have to once again encounter the demoniac. It is by no coincidence that Jesus goes where the world would rather not go. Jesus meets the man right where he is at, both physically and spiritually.

The demons fear Jesus’ power and rightly so. They do not want to return to the Abyss, so they beg to be sent into the pigs. Rather than return to hell, the demons end their existence by drowning themselves in the lake. Mercifully, Jesus allows this. The man is free. The townspeople find him clean, dressed, and sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening. It is an amazing restoration to wholeness that leads to fear of Jesus, not to engagement or even interest on the part of the townspeople. They ask Jesus to leave.

Sometimes the power of Jesus feels like too much. The Bible is full of these stories. We were once at this point ourselves. Many are there today. The idea of freedom in Christ is a little enticing but the power of wealth or the draw of the addiction or the fear of surrender is too great. We know folks who are struggling to take that step towards Jesus. Unlike the demons in our story, their demon tells them that Jesus has no power, that Jesus cannot make them whole again. May we be willing to cross that “lake”, to go to them where and how they are, to share our Jesus and the story of how he set us free.

Prayer: Lord, give me the courage to go across that lake, to be willing to engage those that others would rather not. Grant me words of healing and hope. Amen.


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Heart for God

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse Seven: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.

Today’s passage is a good reminder of how different we are from God. When hiring for a new opening, we consider different things than God does, depending on the position. If we are looking for a new nuclear engineer there are certain educational qualifications needed. If we are looking for a new starting point guard, there are certain physical attributes we may look for. If we are hiring a new youth director, there are specific tangibles we would have on that list. For each job, there are specific and unique criteria that must be met.

In our passage today, Samuel goes into the interview process to find a new king with certain thoughts in mind. His ideal king would be tall and strong, great in battle, brave and courageous. He would have good leadership skills. As the oldest son, Eliab, passes before him, Samuel thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord”. Not this big, strong man. One by one they pass by and God rejects all seven. Very soon into the process, Samuel gets this reminder from God: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. God is saying we must look deeper than the surface. It is the condition of the heart that matters foremost to God.

When we are hiring for our companies (or for our churches), we do try and look beyond the degrees or the work experience of the individual. We also want to know about their work ethic, if they are honest and reliable, and so on. We too dig a little deeper when something important is on the line. After all, we do not want to hire just any engineer or any point guard or any youth director – we want to hire the best one we can.

When hiring for the next king, God began His search deep within the candidates – looking first at the condition of their heart. That was the top of the list. It is usually a bit farther down our hiring lists. But this makes me wonder – if God were hiring a new leader today and He looked at the condition of my heart, would I be hired or would I be passed by? Am I a follower of Jesus whose whole heart is God’s alone? This is what God really desires of us – a heart that belongs to God. May our walk today be faithful to God, loving God with all that we are. May it be so day by day. Amen.


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Worship

Reading: Psalm 29

Verse Eleven: “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”.

Psalm 29 evokes images we read about in Isaiah 6 – the power and splendor and Majesty of God. God’s voice is central to this Psalm. By telling of the ways God uses His voice seven times the psalmist is evoking thoughts of wholeness and perfection. The use of seven also implies that God is in total and complete control of the earth and all that is in and on it.

It is within this all-encompassing power of God that we live our day to day lives in this earth. For me this brings emotions of attraction and awe to our God. In a way it reminds me of the power one can feel in a good thunder storm. I like to sit outside as the big storms draw near – seeing the bright lightning flashing and hearing and feeling the powerful rolls of thunder. It connects me to God.

The Psalm closes with a picture of God enthroned. God sits on the throne as king forever. This evokes ideas of worship in me. Imagining this scene, I am led to visualize bowing low before the throne, bringing my praise and adoration to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I too want to shout, “Glory”!

The psalmist closes with this line: “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”. It is a great reminder. As all-powerful and almighty as our God is, He still desires to be in an intimate and personal relationship with each of us. It is through this relationship that God blesses us. The God of all is also my God and your God. Amazing. Praise be to God!


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Whole Heart

Reading: Psalm 119: 1-8

The ‘heart’ is mentioned a couple of times in the opening stanza to Psalm 119.  For the psalmist and for the people of Israel, the heart was what guided life.  For them, the heart contained all emotions, all thought, all intellect, all desires…  All of who one was and ever would be was thought to be in their heart.  When one reads this passage, with its emphasis on the heart, it expands our understanding of what it means to “seek Him with all of our heart”.  For the Israelites and for us, it means pursuing God with all you’ve got.

This passage emphasizes blessings when we learn to live according to God’s laws.  There is this idea of first learning God’s ways, precepts, and decrees.  Then the writer uses the word ‘obey’ several times.  This is because it is one thing to know the law and a whole other thing to obey it.  But this is not a rote process like memorizing state capitals for a test.  It is not boring or forced learning.  The psalmist writes, “I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws”.  There is joy and happiness in praise.

When we seek God with our whole hearts, obeying His ways as we live, then we find peace, contentment, assurance, and joy.  It is when we seek God and find these qualities defining our lives, it is then that we are truly blessed.  Living according to God’s ways and allowing God to be at the center of who we are – in our heart – transforms us into who God created us to be.  Living in God’s image and following Christ’s example brings a peace and joy in our lives that not only blesses us but also blesses those in our lives.

May we seek God with all of our heart, living lives overflowing with the blessings of our loving Father.  In this way, we live as light and love in the world.  Thanks be to God for this gift.