pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Righteous

Reading: 1st John 3: 4-7

Verse 5: “You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin”.

Photo credit: Emily Crawford

John begins our passage for today reminding us that sin breaks the law and that sin is lawlessness. For the Jews of Jesus’ day, a life of faith entailed following the Law. Breaking a law required confession and the offering of a sacrifice to God. The Jewish faith had become very legalistic at this point. Keeping the law had in many ways superceded the practice of living in a relationship with God.

Jesus came in the flesh not to abolish the law but to reveal God’s love in and through the law. Almost everything Jesus taught and lived out came from the Old Testament. The ways of God were lived out in Jesus’ life through the lens of God’s love. There was no legalism in the ways and teachings of Jesus. The acts of confession and repentance and forgiveness had become boxes that check, parts of the law to keep, motions to go through. This had already been evident by the time of the last prophets, 400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Through Amos, God tells the people he won’t even look at their “offerings of well-fed animals” (5:22) any longer. God desires justice and righteousness instead, for peace to “roll down like a river”. This is the broken system that the sacrifice of Jesus replaced.

In our passage today we read, “You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin”. Jesus came to be the sacrifice, to pay the price once for all, to open the curtain that separates. As Jesus gave up his life, the temple curtain separating the people from God’s presence was torn in two. Through Jesus, God became accessible, more present. God’s love had been fully revealed. No longer was it necessary to go to the priest with an animal to sacrifice. Jesus gave direct access to God’s mercy and grace and forgiveness – not through a burnt offering but through a humble and repentant heart.

With Jesus Christ in our heart we are no longer slaves to sin. In John’s words, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning”. The Holy Spirit works within us, helping us to walk a more holy and devout life. Sin is not absent from our lives; in and with the Holy Spirit we recognize it and repent. Through the power and presence of the Spirit, Jesus within us, may we ever seek to be righteous “as he is righteous”.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gifts of your love: Jesus Christ my example and the Holy Spirit my guide. Thank you for loving me beyond my sin and then back into right relationship with you. 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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The Presence of God

Reading: Mark 1: 4-8

Verse 4: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

As we delve into Mark’s gospel we get right into the years of Jesus’ ministry. The first gospel written jumps right in with John the Baptist. Quoting from the Old Testament, John’s authority is established. John is the prophet spoken of long ago and is the one sent to “prepare the way” for the Lord. John was very different in his approach. In verse four we read, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. He set up out in the wilderness, a place representing the condition of people’s souls at this point. He dressed and ate differently than any other religious leader. His open air, honest, straight forward style was different and was a foreshadowing of the ministry of Jesus.

Many people came out into the desert to hear John. His words brought a quick conviction and a renewed dedication. Many people stepped into the river to confess their sins and to commit to a more devout life. They did so because the presence of God was evident in John’s life. The Spirit if God upon John drew others to want to know God in a more personal, more intimate way. The presence of God could not be ignored.

Wouldn’t that be a great thing for others to say about you? To notice about you? I think so! As we each consider the living out of each day, may we seek to make God known through our words and actions and attitudes. May we be set apart from the world, pointing to the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: God of all, so fill me with your Holy Spirit that all will see you in me and in my life. May your presence abound in all I say and do and think, bringing you the glory and praise. Amen.


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Live in the Light

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 1-11

Verse 8: “Since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet”.

As the closing chapter to 1st Thessalonians begins, Paul reminds them who they are – and who they are not. Sadly, I still need this reminder too. After almost 35 years as a practicing Christian, at times I still struggle with the darkness. Paul begins by reminding the Thessalonians that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night”. This thought echoes the conclusion of last week’s parable from Matthew 25: be prepared!

In the next few verses Paul contrasts living in the light and living in the dark. For Paul’s audience there was a clear understanding that light is good and dark is evil. Paul first reminds them that they are “sons of light”. Each believer is a child of God, a brother or sister in Christ. He admonishes them not to be like those who are “asleep” but instead to be “alert and self-controlled”. Paul also reminds them that bad things happen at night. This remains largely true today. I recently moved from a small town. In a conversation with a police officer I commented that the town seemed like a safe, nice place. He commented that I should ride along one night. Then I would see a whole other side of the community.

The call to live in the light is a call to devout and holy living. The light exposes all that is evil, sinful, ungodly. At times we are tempted towards the things of the flesh. This is part of being human. If we are striving to live in the light, however, then our faith, our connection to Christ, will help us to deny these temptations. But it is such a fine line that we usually walk. It is easy enough to step into the dark, to give in, to think, “Here, no one will see me”. Paul knows this is a reality, a choice each believer faces. So, in verse eight, he urges them and us to be “self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet”. Let faith and love guard your heart, invite hope to dwell in your mind. With Jesus Christ, faithfully live in the light, shining brightly for all the world to see!

Prayer: Lord God, I hear the call clearly to be a child of the light. It is such a clear call. When I have walked in the light, life has always been better. Yet the dark still calls. The things of this world are attractive and pleasurable. In this battle, I need you! May the Holy Spirit speak loudly and clearly, reminding me that you are my God, my hope, my salvation. May it ever be so! Amen.


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We All Sleep

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 5: “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep”.

Today’s and tomorrow’s passage takes place at a wedding. The Jewish wedding of Jesus’ day was different than the weddings we attend today. The ceremony itself would be at the bride’s home. The wedding banquet would be at the bridegroom’s home. In our passage we find the bridesmaids awaiting the groom and his side of the wedding party. They are waiting to parade him into the wedding space with some celebration and excitement. But the bridegroom is delayed, so they wait into the night. We are not sure why he is delayed. One suggestion I read is that the groom and bride’s father could not agree on the bride’s price – another custom that we do not practice in many parts of the world today.

In our passage we learn that some of the bridesmaids are wise and some are foolish. Some were prepared for a lengthy wait and some were not. For some, this was probably not their first wedding. Some brought extra oil in jars and some did not. This fact will have a dramatic affect on both the wise and foolish bridesmaids. The hour gets late. In verse five we read, “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep”. All ten fell asleep. None stayed awake the whole time. All ten fell asleep.

In terms of our faith, we all fall asleep. Even the most devout Christian has moments or even seasons when they walk in the ways of the world, when they allow anger or pride or some other non-Christian emotion to control their words or actions. Whether just a few minutes or a couple of hourss or a few days or many years, we can all allow or push or choose to lay aside our faith for a time. Sometimes it is almost innocent, like the ten bridesmaids who literally fell asleep. Sometimes it is more planned, more fully considered, more thought through. Sin can be like that.

Then came the call that awakened all ten. Five trimmed their lamps, righted the ship, got back on the narrow path. Five could not. Yes, we’ve all been there – in both scenarios. The Holy Spirit whispers to us, gently nudges us, reminding us of our faith, that treasure in a jar of clay. We return to our walk of faith. But we’ve all also ignored the Holy Spirit conviction and kept on living in sin. We had slept too long and there was no oil to refill our lamps at that point. Today’s story begs two questions for me today. First, when temptation comes, is their sufficient faith to turn sin away? Second, when temptation leads to sin and faith slumbers, will there be enough oil to relight my walk of faith?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder and for the call to introspection today. Daily discipline is essential to continue on the walk of faith. Keep me diligent. Also needed is a humble spirit and a willing heart. Only then will I hear well the Holy Spirit. Strengthen my faith day by day, Lord, filling my jar with faith each day. Amen.


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Search Me, Know Me

Reading: Psalm 139: 11-12 and 23-24

Verses 23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart… and lead me in the way everlasting”.

As we wrap up Psalm 139 today we begin with a reminder that we cannot hide from God. In the opening ten verses we were reminded that God is everywhere and is at all times present. Today the psalmist reminds us that not even darkness can hide us. To God, the night shines like the day. God’s vision is 20/20 all the time.

It is in the dark that we get astray from God’s word and God’s ways. In our human minds we think that we can find cover in the dark and there can pretend that God does not know or see that we are sinning. We are only fooling ourselves when we think and act this way. With God, “darkness is as light to you”. Nothing is hidden from God.

In verses 23 and 24 the psalmist writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart… and lead me in the way everlasting”. This is really personal. To invite someone to search your heart and mind, to test and know your innermost thoughts, fears, sins… To extend this invitation is to acknowledge our desire for deeper relationship, for greeter honesty. It is a necessary step if this is what we want with God. It is necessary for us, not for God – God already knows us completely. But when we take the actual step to invite God into ourselves in this way, we are admitting our need to be closer to God. It draws us into introspection and reflection, to confession and repentance, to a more devout life. This first step is what moves us closer to the “way everlasting”. To go deeper on our journey, may we all invite God to search and know us, to guide and lead us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, it’s a bit scary to invite you in, to be that honest with myself. To invite you in like this is to open myself more to your will and your way, to your direction in my life. In this act of dying to self, draw me deeper into love with you. Amen.


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Search Me, Know Me

Reading: Psalm 139: 11-12 and 23-24

Verses 23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart… and lead me in the way everlasting”.

As we wrap up Psalm 139 today we begin with a reminder that we cannot hide from God. In the opening ten verses we were reminded that God is everywhere and is at all times present. Today the psalmist reminds us that not even darkness can hide us. To God, the night shines like the day. God’s vision is 20/20 all the time.

It is in the dark that we get astray from God’s word and God’s ways. In our human minds we think that we can find cover in the dark and there can pretend that God does not know or see that we are sinning. We are only fooling ourselves when we think and act this way. With God, “darkness is as light to you”. Nothing is hidden from God.

In verses 23 and 24 the psalmist writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart… and lead me in the way everlasting”. This is really personal. To invite someone to search your heart and mind, to test and know your innermost thoughts, fears, sins… To extend this invitation is to acknowledge our desire for deeper relationship, for greeter honesty. It is a necessary step if this is what we want with God. It is necessary for us, not for God – God already knows us completely. But when we take the actual step to invite God into ourselves in this way, we are admitting our need to be closer to God. It draws us into introspection and reflection, to confession and repentance, to a more devout life. This first step is what moves us closer to the “way everlasting”. To go deeper on our journey, may we all invite God to search and know us, to guide and lead us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, it’s a bit scary to invite you in, to be that honest with myself. To invite you in like this is to open myself more to your will and your way, to your direction in my life. In this act of dying to self, draw me deeper into love with you. Amen.


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The Long Run

Reading: Matthew 11: 2-11

Verse 2: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else”?

John the Baptist is in prison. His earthly ministry has come to an end. During his time in the wilderness he called many to a baptism of repentance. They heard John’s powerful message and emerged from the waters committed to living a devout faith in order to be prepared for the coming Messiah. During this time, Jesus himself came and was baptized by John. God spoke words of blessing over the one John himself called the “lamb of God”. Yet, in today’s passage, John sends some followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else”? What could lead John to question who Jesus was?

Because he was a prophet and because he was so closely connected to God, in those moments in the wilderness, John sensed who Jesus was and identified him as the Messiah. Now John sits in prison. He is being punished because one in power did not like hearing the truth. The Romans remain in control. When is the Messiah going to do something about all this? When is the Messiah going to rise up and lead Israel back to greatness? John is allowing his present circumstances and his worldly longings to affect how he sees and understands Jesus. We can do this as well. We can allow our hard circumstances and the pressures of the world to affect our relationship with and our faith in Christ. We too can become disoriented and can question or doubt our faith.

Jesus’ response is two-fold. The first part reminds John (and us) of what Jesus’ real purpose and mission was and is. Jesus came to bring healing and hope to a broken world. John himself had challenged the religious leaders to “produce fruit”. In Luke’s gospel John defines this as giving to those in need, as caring for others… Jesus is reminding John that his kingdom is not about being powerful in the worldly sense. The second reminder is to John the person. Jesus declares that John fulfilled his divine role in calling or pointing people towards Jesus. Jesus declares John the greatest prophet. Jesus is assuring John that his life does not amount to his current situation. He is reminding John that what truly matters, in the long run, is the faithful service that John gave to his Lord and Savior. Even the last line of our passage today points to this reality: all in heaven will be greater than their earthly self. Hold onto hope John, the best is yet to come. This too is our truth. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am having my John the Baptist moments, feeling sorry for myself or questioning why I am where I am, remind me as you did John. Help me to be light and love in the dark places and ever remind me of the end of the real story. Thank you. Amen.


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The Price Is Paid

Reading: Hebrews 10: 11-18

Verse 14: “By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”.

Rituals and traditions are important. We like being creatures of habit. More than once I have driven to work and, as I pulled into the parking lot, wondered, ‘How did I get here’? I could not recall passing that building or stopping at that traffic light. It felt Twilight Zone-ish. Have you ever begun, “Our Father who art in heaven…” and suddenly found yourself at “Amen”, wondering how you got there?

Day after day after day the priests offered sacrifices for the same sins. Day after day after day, same atonements for the same log of sins. It did not seem as if the behaviors or the attitudes were changing. Maybe the sins changed for some as the believers became more devout, but the sin remained. The blood of the cow or sheep or dove did not erase the guilt or the shame or the sin. Day after day the sacrifices continued. Do you suppose people showed up week after week after week with a lamb, wondering how they got there?

And then came Jesus. God in the flesh changed everything. Jesus offered Himself as the perfect final sacrifice. “By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”. Jesus died for each of us, we who are sinners, once for all. On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished”. He died once for all. Jesus’ blood atones for our sin and washes it away, making us perfect as we are ever made more holy. Through the power and constant presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus walks with us, sanctifying us, making us more and more like Christ. Yes, we will sin again. But His mercies make us new again each time we repent, each time transforming us, making us more like Jesus. This is not a ritual. It is personal. Each and every time.

Our passage reminds us that God will “remember no more” our sins. They are washed away in the blood. Because our sins are forgiven and forgotten through Jesus Christ, we can freely and boldly approach God without hesitation. We are free to come to God all the time because we can be made holy at any and at all times. Jesus has opened the door and He stands in the doorway beckoning us to come in. Forever. Verse 18 reads, “Where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin”. The price has been paid. Thank you Jesus.

Prayer: Praise be to the Father and to the Son! Thank you God for loving me enough to send your Son for me. Thank you Jesus, for your perfect witness, for your sacrifice for a sinner like me. Thank you for the cross. Amen.


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Lead

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 11: The greatest among you will be your servant.

Leadership today is usually about having good people skills, making wise decisions, knowing the intricacies of the trade, carefully using ones power, and gaining experience in one’s field.  Society may even overlook some behaviors or actions if the bottom line is healthy enough.  In our world we also see some trying to lead, but they lack some of the necessary qualities and skills to lead well.  Others are following their own agendas and are leading a very small band or a group of one.

Jesus addresses leadership in Luke 23.  He is talking once again about the religious leaders and the Pharisees.  He begins by acknowledging that they sit in the seat of authority.  Therefore, He says they deserve obedience.  But from here, Jesus addresses their woes.  First, they do not practice what they preach.  Second, they use the Law to place heavy burdens on the people but they themselves do nothing to help the people live out the Law.  Third, they love recognition.  They desire to be noticed and recognized for their apparent holiness and esteemed positions.  It is all about them and little about helping others to know God and to live devout and righteous lives.

Jesus then shifts the focus to who we should really be following.  He insists that there is really only one true Father and only one true Teacher.  God alone is to be worshipped and we should follow Jesus alone.  As John the Baptist said, we must become less so that Jesus can become more.  Jesus also speaks of this today, saying, “The greatest among you will be your servant”.  The greatest here on earth will be the servant.  Faith is about loving God and, in turn, loving others.

The humble servant loves and serves and then points to Jesus Christ and His love as the reason why.  This is the task of all Christians: through our lives we are to point others to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.  To a degree, we are all called to lead.  By our prayers, our presence, our witness, our service, and our gifts, may we always lead others to Christ.  As we live out our lives and as we love others as humble servants of the Lord our God, may we ever shine the light on Jesus, the author of our faith.