pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Drawing Near

Reading: Mark 1: 9-15

Verse 15: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”!

Mark’s gospel quickly moves to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The prophecies and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus gets zero verses in Mark’s story. John the Baptist’s whole ministry gets seven verses. Jesus’ baptism gets three and his time being tempted in the wilderness gets two. John’s imprisonment and the start of Jesus’ ministry gets two verses combined. Mark moves quickly through these events. Mark’s compact gospel gives key quotes that often pack a punch. Verse 15 is one of those verses. These are the first words spoken by Jesus in Mark’s gospel.

Jesus begins by stating, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near”. It is time to begin public ministry. This ministry will involve the kingdom of God, incarnate in the person of Jesus, coming near to people. It will come near enough to touch people and to speak with people, to eat with people and to bless their lives. It will come near enough to enter into relationship with people. Jesus continues by saying, “Repent and believe the good news”! In another translation this reads, “Change your heart and lives” (CEB). This is closer to the original text. The word translated ‘repent’ implied expanding one’s mind to a new reality. Jesus engaged and lived in a whole new way, more fully expressing God’s love for each of us, his children. To engage the world as Jesus did, to love others as Jesus did – this requires a new way to see the world and to understand our purpose in it. This mind shift will lead to us living a radical, selfless life that stands out, that draws questions.

To become like Christ in mind and heart, in words and actions, will lead to opportunities to bring the kingdom near and to share our belief in the good news. Not blending in but living a holy and compassionate life will draw others into conversation, giving us the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. In this way we will partner with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, drawing the love of God into other’s lives. As we seek to be the kingdom here on earth, we too will be changed. God’s blessings on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, help me to live a life of faith that is noticable, that is radical. May my witness draw others in so that I have the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: Psalm 25: 1-10

Verse 9: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way”.

Photo credit: Jan Huber

Today’s Psalm is about the trust and assurance that King David has in God. David begins Psalm 25 by lifting his soul up to God. This is what we do in Lent – this season of reflection and introspection. David asks not to be put to shame by God or by his enemies and perhaps not by himself. David then asks God to “teach me your paths”. David wants to know God’s ways, to be guided by God’s truths. His heart desires a closer walk with God. This desire is a the heart of the Lenten season as well.

In verse nine David writes, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way”. Humility is an essential part of our journey. If we are not humble we can get caught up in the shame that comes with our failures and sins, especially when we internalize the shame. Humility reminds us that we are not perfect and that we do not have to live out our faith on our own. God’s Spirit and the Word and our brothers and sisters in Christ walk alongside us. Humility allows us to learn and grow, both from our mistakes as well as our successes because both are grounded in the goodness and steadfastness of God.

Just as life was for King David, our Lenten journey will not be one steady ascent to the pinnacle of Easter Sunday. While we hope to continue growing closer and closer and to be more and more like Jesus during these forty days, we will have setbacks and pauses. We are limited and imperfect. In verse ten we read, “All of the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful”. All. Each day of our Lenten journey may we keep these truths in mind, allowing them to guide and empower our journey together with God and with one another. May it always be so.

Prayer: Lord God, as I lift up my soul to you, refine it as you may. Teach me your ways so that I may faithfully walk the path to the cross. When I stumble, as I know I will, lift me up and set me back upon your path. Amen.


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Remember Your Baptism

Reading: 1st Peter 3: 18-22

Verse 21: “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… the pledge of a good conscience toward God”.

Today’s reading connects Jesus’ saving act on the cross to our baptism and to Noah’s experience in the great flood. Peter begins by reminding us that Christ died for us all – “the righteous for the unrighteous” – so that we could be in right relationship with God. Peter reminds us that not only did Jesus pay the atonement or price for our sins, but through the resurrection Jesus also opened the way to eternal life for all who believe in him as Lord and Savior.

In the middle of our passage Peter speaks of Noah and family, those who were “saved through the water”. Baptism is often associated with the washing away of our sins. Jewish rituals of purification involved water in the cleansing process. In Noah’s experience, the water was also the saving agent. The sinful world perished in the flood but through the waters God saved Noah, his family, and all the living creatures. Peter reminds us that “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also”. Through baptism we are brought into the family of God, into the community of faith. We are marked or claimed by God. Baptism becomes or leads to “the pledge of a good conscience toward God” – whether made by parents and sponsors or by the person being baptized. The pledge is to live a life worthy of Christ, the one who died for us. This life is revealed through our participation in the community of faith and through the ways we share our faith with the world by our witness, our prayers, our worship, our actions, our service…

The “good conscience” that Peter speaks of is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This is a promised gift from Jesus that is connected to baptism. In the early church and in some denominations today, the believer’s baptism is the standard practice. The Holy Spirit comes into that person’s life after they confess Jesus as Lord and as they are baptized into the faith. For those traditions that practice infant baptism, the child is marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Usually during confirmation (or a similar process) the young adult professes their own faith in Jesus Christ. This confession marks the point of entry for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

On this first Friday of Lent may we each remember our baptism and may we rejoice in our place in the family of God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for claiming me as an infant and then waiting patiently for me to decide to follow Jesus. The gift of the Holy Spirit empowers and enables me to follow day by day. Thank you for this gift. Amen.


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Covenant God

Reading: Genesis 9: 8-17

Verse 9: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”.

Photo credit: Iker Urteaga

Noah is the central character in our passage but he is far from alone. Noah and family have been on the ark with every other living animal, bird, reptile, insect… for almost a whole year. Imagine being confined to a fairly small space for that long! In reality, though, the current pandemic has felt like that for many. For Noah and crew, the waters finally receed and God calls them out of the ark with the imperative to “be fruitful and increase in number”. The earth must be populated again. New life must return. As they exit the ark, God says, “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”. Never again will the whole earth be destroyed by water. A rainbow will remind God and humanity of the covenant.

If the pandemic has not felt like being locked in an ark for you, we all have had other trials and experiences where we wondered if we’d make it through, where we questioned if we’d survive the storm, where we’ve longed to finally catch our breath… As I’m sure Noah and family did from time to time, we have asked why God would allow this terrible thing to happen. This is a questioning born from grief or pain. After these emotions have passed we realize again that death and disease and illness and natural disasters are all part of life. None of these things are God punishing us or the world. At times maybe you, like me, briefly wondered this about COVID. It can sometimes feel that way. At the time of this writing, 2.43 million have died worldwide, with almost half a million of those deaths in the US. This disease has reminded us that we are powerless in many ways and that we can’t totally control everything. In the midst of the loss and grief we have also been reminded again and again of the hope, joy, strength, peace, assurance… that we find in our faith and in our covenant God.

Just as it did for Noah and family, the world as we once knew it has changed forever. We are in a place we never imagined we’d be. Just as the people of Noah’s day said ‘the rain will stop soon’, so too do we think this cannot last forever. We approach a year living in a pandemic. All of us have lost someone or have been impacted by this powerful disease. Yet Noah’s truths remain for us: God is more powerful than any earthly thing and that God is our covenant God. We too need to remember that God is more powerful than anything, even death. God promises to be our God in this life and in the life to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are all-powerful and everlasting. You are in total control and you are limitless. Yet you know my name and even the limited number of hairs on my head. You love me. You call me child. Thank you for wanting to be in a personal relationship with even me. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Today is Ash Wednesday. This is a great passage to consider as we prepare to journey into the season of Lent. The words of this Psalm are a wake up call to Israel and to all who approach their relationship with God superficially.

The ashes that we will place on our foreheads reminds us of our mortality. Ashes were used for this same purpose in the days of Isaiah. Remembering our mortality reminds us that we are finite, limited, imperfect. Today begins the season that culminates the Saturday before Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the grave. In his resurrection we find our eternal hope. We are invited to walk through Lent as a season of preparation for that day. These forty days are a time of reflection, introspection, refining.

The people of Isaiah’s day were putting ashes on their foreheads, wearing sack cloth, bowing their heads to God. They were exhibiting all the outward signs of fasting. Today we can show up at church and have a cross drawn on our foreheads. We too can go through the motions. In our passage God’s people fasted, yes, but also continued to exploit the marginalized, to strike one another with “evil fists”, and to ignore the injustices and the oppression all around them. Verse four sums up God’s response: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. We cannot come to church and go through the motions of worship or Bible study or youth group and then go out and live as the world lives.

In verses six and seven God shares the kind of fast that is pleasing to him. As fast pleasing to God changes our hearts and leads us to fight injustice, to set the oppressed free, to share food with the hungry, to give shelter to the wanderer, to clothe the naked. In Lent we are called to look within, to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our indulgences. Doing so we will come to have a heart focused on drawing God’s kingdom near.

Verse eight reveals what happens when God’s people turn towards him and become like him: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear”. May it be so.

Prayer: God of the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the needy – lead me to the place of honest confession and sincere repentance. Make me aware of how I contribute to the pain and misery of the world and turn me from my harmful and hurtful ways. Kill in me all that keeps me from fully loving and serving you and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.


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A Pure Heart

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-17

Verse 10: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Photo credit: Adrien Olichon

In Psalm 51 the psalmist begins by asking for God’s mercy to wash away their sins. The psalmist admits that “my sin is ever before me”. The author recognizes that his sin is against God and God alone. God has a right to judge him. We can all relate to what the writer of this Psalm is expressing and feeling. We’ve all been there.

The commonly accepted context for this Psalm is the aftermath of David’s affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. There was certainly a need for God’s grace and forgiveness at this point in David’s life. Although most of our sins are not this egregious, all sin separates us from God and damages our relationship with God and others. God’s mercy and forgiveness are universal needs.

In verse seven David begins to ask for God’s help in restoring the relationship that David broke. He cannot do this on his own. Here he asks God to “cleanse me with hyssop” and then, in verse nine, to “blot out all my iniquity”. These ideas, these phrases, resonate with the sacrament of holy communion. Once forgiven, once cleansed, David can ask God to “create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”. In New Testament terms, the old is gone and the new has come. The old sinful self is washed away, replaced by a new self fully turned toward God. As a new creation in God, David desires to feel again the joy of salvation and to have a willing spirit within – one totally obedient to God.

This Psalm also resonates with our Ash Wednesday practices. Many Christians will seek to be restored and to dedicate themselves to a more holy and devout walk with the Lord as we begin our Lenten journey. The imposition of ashes reminds us of our finite nature and draws us to reflect upon our journey with Christ. It calls us to critically evaluate the condition of our souls. It draws us towards living with a more pure heart.

Our reading for today ends with these words: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”. As we prepare to enter Lent may we find a new path to walk with Jesus, a path guided by just such a heart. With a pure heart we will be pleasing in his sight. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me to that place of contrition, to the place of confession and repentance; show me the path to a closer walk, reveal the things I need to leave along the side of the path. Create in me a pure heart with a desire to be yours alone. Break my heart for what breaks yours, O God. Amen.


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Focus

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

Verse 20b: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

In our passage for today, Paul implores us to be reconciled to God. To reconcile means to restore the relationship. Paul is writing to those in the church who have drifted from the faith, to those who have allowed other things to rise above their commitment to the Lord. Unless we are intentional and disciplined concerning our habits of faith, then this can happen to us too. A daily, focused walk with God supplemented by time with the community of faith have always been essential for solid Christian discipleship.

Moving into verses three through seven, Paul shares with the church how he and Timothy have lived out their faith. Note there is both good and bad, both joy and sorrow. Paul and Timothy have endured trials and hardships, persecution, abuse, and slander, as well as sleepless nights. In and through all of this, Paul and Timothy have practiced purity and patience and kindness. They have relied on the Holy Spirit and have sought to practice love above all else. They have always been truthful. Paul wants the church (including us) to know that a walk of faith is not always easy. He also wants to remind us that to walk or live out our faith we must rise above the norms of the world.

As we prepare to enter into Lent, a season of introspection and preparation, it is good to consider how we are walking out our faith. Have we allowed other priorities to rise above our faith commitment? During Lent some people give something up. What in your life could or should you give up to make room for a closer walk with God? Is there a habit or behavior that lessens your walk or your witness? Some people add a habit or practice during Lent. Some join a Lenten study, some read a book that enriches their faith. Some fast, finding new time to pray or to read their Bibles. And some do both – giving something up, adding something in. The point is to reflect on your current walk with Jesus and to find a way to deepen that walk with the Lord during this holy season.

In the last few verses of our passage Paul shares the beauty of a faithful walk. God has sustained he and Timothy in times of need, guiding them through the trials and hardships. Because of the presence of Jesus Christ in their daily lives they are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. Paul and Timothy have their eye on God’s goodness and on the salvation of their souls. As we prepare to enter this holy season of Lent may this be our focus as well.

Prayer: Lord God, prepare me to journey deeper with you during this season of Lent. Guide me to walk closer and more intimately. Show me the way. Reveal the path to walk. Amen.


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In All of Life

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verse 5: “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters'”.

Photo credit: Gian D.

After Peter has a few moments to collect himself and to become aware of the significance of Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus he says, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters”. Realizing how special this time is, Peter’s first reaction is to try and preserve the moment. He wants to make it last so he proposes building a place for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to stay. And then, “suddenly”, a voice from heaven speaks and Moses and Elijah are gone. It is just Peter, James, and John that descend the mountain with Jesus.

Peter, James, and John must have felt much like we feel when our “mountaintop” experience ends and we return to our ordinary lives. There are times or even short seasons when we find ourselves in the very presence of God. Often I am like Peter, not wanting it to end, doing what I can think of to prolong it. But that special time in worship, that mission trip, that sacred moment in the hospital room… – their time comes to a close. The blessing will be given, the bus will bring us home, the circumstance in the room will be resolved – and we return to our regular life. Yet we do not return the same. Peter, James, and John will never see Jesus or their faith in him the same again. They have been changed by their experience.

Coming down the mountain, we too know God better, our faith has grown. Will we allow that to influence or affect how we live in the ordinary? God is present everywhere, not just on the mountaintop (or in the valley). God is ever present in all places and in all circumstances. In the regular of life it takes a little more effort to see God all the time. But if we get accustomed to looking for God, if that becomes our habit, then we will be amazed at how God is present in all of life. May that blessing be yours today and every day.

Prayer: Living God, be present to me today – in the big and in the small. Reveal yourself in worship in mighty and powerful ways; be the still, small voice in all the other moments too, continuing to reveal yourself in all of my moments. Amen.


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Transform Us

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verses 2 and 3: “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white”.

Peter, James, and John go up the mountain with Jesus. Jesus is transfigured before them. He is still Jesus but he has been changed, elevated, further revealed. His glory and power shine out from him. To the disciples, this appears or is described as “dazzling white”. Even though their words paint an image that we can form in our mind, we too know that their human words and description fall short of the fullness of this divine moment. Their words provide but a glimpse of what they saw and felt and experienced in that moment.

We too have moments when we are blessed by the very presence of the divine. Once, when I was in high school, I was praying with two friends in the church balcony. We were praying for a friend of mine whose life hung in the balance. In that balcony, God touched me. I felt surrounded, loved, assured that no matter the outcome my friend would be alright. These words relate my experience to you but they do not fully capture what I felt and experienced that night. It too is but a glimpse into someone else’s encounter with God. Just as Peter, James, and John’s moment was transforming for their faith, so too was that balcony moment. What moments have you had that have transformed you?

As we consider that question, we are on the verge of entering into the season of Lent next week. It is a season of introspection and reflection. When and if we are open and honest with God, he will meet us in those places of need or brokenness or hurt as well as in the ordinary moments of life. He will surround us and lift us and remain with us if we are but willing to go up the mountain or through the valley or to simply recognize him in the ordinary of life. May we be willing and may Christ transform us during this holy season.

Prayer: Lord God, you seek to be with us in all of our moments – the highs and lows and the moments in between. Help me to recognize your presence in each moment of my life and draw me deeper into that connection point and into our relationship. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 50: 3-6

Verse 3: “Our God will come and will not be silent”.

Photo credit: Bill Oxford

The reality of God is on full display in these verses from Psalm 50. While we prefer to avoid this truth about God, in fact he will one day judge us all. Whether we stand or kneel before him all by ourselves or whether we come to the throne of judgment following the rapture or the final days, we will all find ourselves in the place of judgment. The psalmist opens with “Our God will come and will not be silent”. The creator of this world and all that is in it has the right to determine our worthiness to enter his perfect eternity. God will not be silent on that day.

Continuing into verse four the psalmist declares that God will indeed “judge his people”. As the fire devours some, God will bring before him the “consecrated ones” – those who chose to enter the covenant to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Ultimately the comparison will be made with Jesus, the one who came and showed us what it means, what it looks like to love God and neighbor with all that we are. We have no better example. While God does not expect us to be perfect, to never sin, to always get it just right, God does expect us to strive to be more like Christ, to resist sin, and to ever answer and follow the call of the Holy Spirit. To use a John Wesley term, we are ever “going on to perfection”. Day by day we are to seek to grow in our love of God and in our love of neighbor, coming closer and closer to the perfection that we find in Jesus Christ so that one day we may be perfected.

The day and hour remain unknown. One day the righteous one will come, God himself as judge. As we consider the condition of our soul and as we ponder our daily walk with Jesus, where will we be judged worthy? Where are we still falling short? Day by day may we honor the covenant more and more, ever bringing increasing glory to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

Prayer: Lord God, walking day by day with you is such a joy. Yet some days I fail to love you completely. Other days I fail to love my neighbor as Jesus would have loved them. Each day become more of me so that I may reflect more of you to the world. Grow in me so that I may grow in you. Amen.