pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Looking Up

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verse 7: “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us”.

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

As the Israelites near the end of their journey in the wilderness they are tired, impatient, and irritable. Three weeks into Lent and perhaps a few of us grow tired of the themes of reflection and introspection. In the bigger picture, today the source of our weariness and impatience and irritability is the pandemic. As the Israelites grumble against God and Moses, they are expressing these emotions. They long to go back to what was. Tired of their current situation, they let go of their frustration via complaint. This is the fifth complaint story during their wilderness journey. God has had enough. God sends venemous snakes among the Israelites and many die. Consequences.

Like Jesus’ subversive actions in the temple, this response of God makes us feel a little uncomfortable. Our reality, though, is that we have been here too. We have had the tables turned over a time or two or… We have been bitten by our poorly spoken words or via our sinful actions. We too have experienced how the pain drives us to confession and repentance, to turning back toward God. As we look up to the Lord, just like the Israelites did, we find reconciliation and restoration and forgiveness. God is faithful and moves quickly to bring us back into right relationship.

Lent is a wilderness experience, a season of introspection and reflection. In that spirit, let us consider times when our actions have harmed or caused pain for others. Perhaps we are in the midst of such a time. What words spoken have caused harm? What actions have damaged relationships? What words left unspoken or actions left undone have allowed harm or pain to continue? To wrestle with these questions first requires a humble and contrite spirit. On Ash Wednesday we were reminded that this is the posture of Lent – a humble and contrite spirit. It is what leads to a new heart within us and to the place of healing that God so graciously offers.

The Israelites looked up to the reminder that God is in control, to the serpent fashioned by Moses. Today, we lift our eyes to our source of healing and hope, to the one who offers mercy and grace, restoration and wholeness – Jesus Christ. On this Lenten journey, may the God of love continue to sustain you and to give life, even in the wilderness.

Prayer: Lord of life, you are so gracious and merciful and kind. Your love is overwhelming, your patience without end. Just as you continued to walk with the Israelites, walk with me day by day. Reveal to me the ways that I have caused and do cause harm so that I can repent and become more like your son, the Christ. Amen.


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Far to Go

Reading: Psalm 106: 1-6 and 19-23

Verse 6: “We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly”.

Today’s Psalm connects into our Exodus 32 readings of the past two days. The Psalms often recount history as a way to both remember and to learn from it. In today’s case, the Psalm was likely written about 500 years after the Exodus from Egypt. Remembering thier stories was a big part of the Jewish faith. Like our stories or histories, for the Jews it reminded them of their sins and failures and of God’s love and mercy towards them.

Psalm 106 opens with praise to the Lord and with thanksgiving for how God blesses those who champion justice, shows favor and brings aid to his people, and gives a joyful inheritance from to his children. It is important to remember why they sought to live in a right relationship with God. Verse six shifts the focus. Reality enters.

In verse six we read, “We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly”. Despite knowing the story quite well, the Jews of the psalmist’s day struggle with sin just as their forefathers had. Sad to say, even with much more than 500 years gone by, we too continue to struggle with sin. In our society and sometimes in our very lives, golden calves abound. In many ways, our nation had forgotten God, just as the Israelites did from time to time.

Even within the church, we have gotten it wrong. Collectively and individually we have made poor choices, have walked out bad decisions, and have enforced policies that caused more harm – all scattered throughout our 2,000 year history. So often these blemishes, these lowlights, have come when we (the church or segments of the church) were so sure we were right that we could not consider any other possibility. Arrogance and pride and even tradition can be dangerous allies. To this point, I read a great line from Steve Harper in today’s Disciplines devotional: “We allege a certainty about our views apart from the humility to ever call them into question”. So true. Worse yet, we do harm to others from this place of arrogant and prideful certainty. We cast stones and look down long judgmental noses at those that dare speak out, that risk to question. And sometimes, once God forces us to see the error of our actions and words, in pride we refuse to seek forgiveness and to remedy the errors of our sins. Yes, church, we still have far to go.

As the body of Christ universal, may we begin to walk with Christ’s humility. May we each seek to be touched by God’s mercy and grace instead of clinging to our arrogance and pride. May we be a part of God’s stream of justice rolling down upon the earth. May the change begin within as we strive to let love alone be our guide and way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am wrong and especially when I think only my way is right, bring the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit fully to bear. Drive me to truly understand the path of Christ, the love filled humble servant who set the example. Strengthen me for the journey. Amen.


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Pressing On

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

In today’s passage Jesus is preparing his disciples for a radical change – his death, followed by him being “raised to life”. The time the twelve have spent with Jesus must have been the best time of their lives. They have witnessed all kinds of miracles and have been a part of a few. They have been side by side with love lived out to the full. They have been blessed with the wisdom of God. If I could just have dinner with anyone in the world, far and away my choice would be Jesus.

The news Jesus delivers is hard to fathom. How could this even happen to the Messiah? How could that be the end of the story? There had to have been a personal side to the emotions the twelve felt too. Peter says, “Never, Lord”! This is the same Peter who was proclaimed the “rock” upon which Jesus would “build my church”. Following these new words from Peter, Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan”. Imagine how that must have stung Peter. The Lord has a way of keeping us humble. Peter is not thinking of the “things of God” – of the plan laid out for Jesus and for humankind. He is not thinking of the Messiah of love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Peter is thinking of what Peter wants – to just continue as it has been. We never want to lose someone or something we love.

Jesus then turns to all of the disciples and says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. For Peter and probably for all of the disciples, the initial denial will be the desire for Jesus to stay with them. The death and resurrection are critical pieces of the plan. They will also be asked to deny self in many more ways as they follow the risen Lord. They will each take up the cross and sacrifice many things along the journey. Such is the cost of discipleship. It is a sobering thought.

Like the twelve, we prefer life to be good, to move along smoothly. It is well with our souls when we are surrounded by those we love, enjoying life, feeling closely connected to the Lord. But the storms of life come, we are drawn to crossroads, we too face death and loss. And at times we too must take up our faith, stand with or for Jesus, and count the cost. This is how we carry our cross. With God, it is always one we can bear, always a path we can tread. It is so because we do not walk alone. As we long for our reward, may we each press on toward the goal of heaven, trusting in God each step of the way.

Prayer: Redeeming and saving God, strengthen me for the journey ahead. Grant me the power to walk the path you place before me. Fill me with your love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Each day may I offer all that I am in service to you, my Lord and King. Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 26-31

Verse 30: “Christ Jesus… our righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Paul opens the passage today with a great challenge: “think of what you were when you were called”. Ponder that for a minute. Think back to who you were and what your life was like before you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior… While the “then” to “now” transformation is probably significant, the great truth of our journey is that the change continues. On our journey of faith we are never “there” so God is always at work, seeking to make us more and more like Jesus Christ.

Paul sees the church in Corinth just like most of us see our churches. Yes, we might have a few movers and shakers, but overall not many are wise, not many are influential, not many are of noble birth. Most of us are just regular people. All of us are just trying to be faithful and obedient in our daily walk. Paul speaks of God choosing the foolish and weak things – things we don’t usually like to associate too much with. Wise, influential, noble, foolish, weak – he is speaking in terms the world uses. Weakness, for example, is shunned in the world but in faith recognizing our weakness leads us to trust God more than in ourselves. If we are foolish in terms of our faith, we see that we cannot figure it all out on our own. Instead we turn to God for guidance and direction. When we know we need God, we do not boast in our own talents and abilities. Leaning into another for help and strength is not what people of the world do. That’s why the cross is foolishness to do many people living in the world.

As we continue our journeys of faith, as we walk more and more in faith, we live into verse 30 more and more. Verse 30 reminds us that Jesus Christ is our “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”. As we follow longer and closer, we live lives that are increasingly righteous and holy. We are not faultless, we still stumble from time to time. But we do walk better the longer and deeper we pursue Jesus Christ. And Jesus ever redeems us. In the day to day, he redeems us when we fail and when we stumble. Working ever towards perfection, we await the day of our final redemption – the day we stand in Jesus’ presence in glory. That’ll be the day! Until then may we walk out our faith day by day, bringing Jesus Christ and his love to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the long walk. Looking back at where the journey began, I can see the change you wrought in me. But it was not an A to B journey. There are moments day by day and in even smaller intervals – moments when I had to choose you over self and other interests. Even when I was selfish and disobedient, you have remained faithful. Thank you, God. Please continue to have me as one of your own. Lead and guide me always and forever. Thank you for being my all in all. Amen.


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Your Call

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Verse 9: “Then the Lord… touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now I put my words in your mouth'”.

Jeremiah, like many of the prophets, received a call from God to be God’s voice to the people. For some, like Samuel and Elisha and others, the call seemed to be their destiny. It was what they had been born for. Such is the case with Jeremiah too, even though he did not seem to be aware of it. In verse 5 we read, “before I formed you in the womb… before you were born… I set you apart… I appointed you as a prophet”. It was who Jeremiah was created to be. Yet even he had his doubts. He said to God, “I am only a child”. We too have our doubts, our reasons, our rationales that we try and use with God.

During my long call into ministry, this happened often. I said I am only a middle school teacher when the call came asking me to teach a high school Sunday school class. I said I am just a volunteer when the call came asking me to lead the youth group. I said I am only a youth leader when the call came to help lead a congregation. Yet at each step God continued to call me onward. In my own way I kept hearing verse 7: “you must go to everyone I send you and say whatever I command you”. God has been faithful. God has been present. God has gone with me every step of the way.

Jeremiah questioned, I questioned, maybe you question too. Perhaps your call is not to be a prophet or a pastor, perhaps it is. Whatever our vocation, the call is the same – to speak and reveal the truth as we share and live out the Word of God. The promises we hear today are the same no matter our calling. When we are willing to go and to trust in God, we all experience verse 9: “Then the Lord… touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now I put my words in your mouth'”. We might not speak the word of God to a nation or even to a congregation. We might just speak it to one person at a time. The size of the audience does not matter. It matters not because the word of God has the power to save, to redeem, to restore, to heal… each that hears it, whether one or one million. So may we all boldly share the word of God today that God places in our hearts and mouths. May we boldly step out in faith, knowing “I am with you”. We do not go alone. God is with us.

Prayer: God, I trust that you will go with me wherever I go today. May the Holy Spirit lead and guide me, bringing me just the words I need to share you with one in need of you. Amen.


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Compassionate Love

Reading: Jonah 3: 1-5 & 10

Verse Ten: “He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened”.

Today we pick up the story of Jonah part way through.  Jonah has already been told to go to Nineveh, fled the other direction, been tossed into the sea during a fierce storm, been swallowed by a fish, prayed to God, and was vomited on to dry land.  This is Jonah 1 and 2 in a nutshell.  Our passage today begins with God speaking a second time to Jonah, instructing him to go to the great city of Nineveh to give a message which calls for their repentance.

Nineveh is a great city with over 120,000 residents.  Our passage tells us that it takes three days to visit the city.  We also learn that it is a city of wickedness.  God calls Jonah to go to save the city from destruction.  This is the first indication of God’s compassionate love.  God desires for the city to turn from its evil ways.  God’s compassionate love is also shown to Jonah as God is willing to tell him a second time to go to Nineveh.  God could have let Jonah drown and found another messenger.

Jonah goes to Nineveh and preached, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be over turned”.  The people believe God and a citywide fast is declared by the king.  The people also put on sackcloth as a sign of their repentance.  The king led the people to do this in hope that God would be compassionate and would relent.  In verse ten we read, “He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened”.  God delivered the second chance that He wanted to give the city.  The story does not end here either.  God still has some work to do with Jonah.  Even though God’s purposes for Nineveh have been completed, God still loves Jonah and goes on to show that.

In the continuing work that God does with Jonah we come to see that God not only gives Jonah a second chance, but also a third…  God does not give up on Jonah.  He continues to bring Jonah along, ever shaping him into who he was created to be.  This is a beautiful thing about our God.  He continues to do the same thing for each and every one of us.  In His great love, God works and works and works to help us along our Christian walk.  He never gives up on us.  It is a beautiful thing.  Thanks be to God for His never-ending compassionate love for you and for me.


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Continues to Call

Reading: Hosea 1: 2-10

The story revealed in Hosea is our story too.  Israel has fallen away from God and has begun to turn to Baal worships and other things not of God.  Yet God does not give up and continues to call them back.  Because of His great love and unending forgiveness, God seeks to renew Israel to an intimate relationship as children of God.

In our Christian walk we too cycle through periods similar to where Israel is in our story today.  Our focus and attention is drawn to things other than God.  Maybe for a season it is our future spouse or our job or our new friends.  The desire for recognition or a promotion or a new car seems to supplant God as our priority.  A new idol has taken God’s place.  Yet God is still there, waiting for us to return to Him, nudging us with the Holy Spirit, whispering our name.  He does not give up.

Even after naming all of Hosea’s children with names that remind the people of their broken relationship with God and even after review how the people have failed to be faithful to God, He ends the passage by saying, “they will be called sons of the living God”.  In this we see that in spite of all they have done and in spite of His anger with them, deep inside God knows that they will always be His people.  Always.

We too may stumble.  We too may wander.  We too may sin.  But God continues and continues and continues to call to us.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we too have been marked as children of God.  He continues to call our name.  We give thanks that in His great love and mercy, God continues to call us home and into His arms of redemption and grace.  Thank you God.