pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Strong, Loving

Reading: Psalm 62: 9-12

Verse 12: “You, O God, are strong… You, O Lord, are loving”.

In our reading today David begins by acknowledging that all of us are “nothing”, “only a breath”. We are each but a blip on God’s timeline. Therefore, David advises us not to trust in the things of this world, saying, “Do not set your hearts on them”. These are sobering thoughts. Yet they do not need to be frightening or to make us anxious. Our passage concludes with these words concerning God: “Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done”. We each have control over this reality. We are who controls and has influence over how God rewards us.

We are God’s creation, made in his image, born with the spark of the divine within us. We are also flesh and bone, drawn to the things of this world. David has experienced both sides of this, just as we have. As he writes from a place of maturity in his life and in his faith, he states, “You, O God, are strong… You, O Lord, are loving”. These two characteristics of God are what allow us the opportunity to receive an eternal reward that continues our relationship with the Lord. God’s strength is what guides us and empowers us to withstand the temptations of this world most of the time. God’s love is what forgives and redeems us when we fail to withstand. Thanks be to God for both his love and his strength!

Prayer: Lord God, as strong as you are, you understand my weakness. As loving as you are, you understand my selfishness. You understand both because in Jesus you walked both out in the world. So your love is always stronger than my weakness against the powers of the world. Guide me as I go out into the world; use me to help others know of your love and strength. Amen.


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Light Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse 3: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair”.

Today’s words from Isaiah burst with hope and the promise of new life. It is easy to relate these words to the time in which we now find ourselves. Just as the Israelites felt powerless and hopeless against the Babylonians and the exile, so too do we feel against the coronavirus and social isolating. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people so needed a light in the darkness. Today, this remains our need as well.

Our passage begins with God empowering Isaiah to bring good news and healing, freedom and release. Neither you or I need to think very long to come up with a lengthy list of folks who desire these things today. We yearn for the “year of the Lord’s favor” in the way the Israelites did. Most of 2020 does not feel like there was very much favor. If not us ourselves, we are surrounded by folks who need comfort in their grief. Each of these needs the blessings of verse three: beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. Today, as in Isaiah’s day, almost all long for these – beauty, gladness, and praise. Yes, we are much like Isaiah’s original audience.

In verse four the empowerment extends to God’s people. It is not just God or Isaiah that have roles to play. Today we fall into this call as well. Isaiah prophesies that the people will help rebuild the ruins and restore the places that were devastated. The people will help renew that which was ruined. The people will not sit idle. Once they are released from their current circumstances, once the light again shines, they will be a part of the year of the Lord’s favor.

We are empowered by the Holy Spirit and we are called by the Lord to be active participants in the sharing of the good news, in caring for the brokenhearted, in bringing freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. We are not to sit idly by in this time of exile and social isolation. We, as people of faith, must bring beauty and gladness and praise to our neighbors and to our communities. The light is coming. May we help prepare those in ashes, mourning, despair, and darkness to receive the light. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, use me as part of your healing work. Guide me to those needing good news, to those needing healing of body, mind, or spirit. May each find freedom through your light and love. Amen.


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Gift of the Spirit

Reading: Mark 1: 6-8

Verses 7 and 8: “After me will come one more powerful than I… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”.

John the Baptist chose the wilderness as his ministry setting. He dressed the part, wearing camel hair clothes. He lived a wilderness life, eating locusts and wild honey. In these ways he was about as far from a typical religious leader as he could be. But this was his destiny. John was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth when both were well beyond the children stage of life. In Luke 1 we find the story of the angel visiting Zechariah in the holy of holies, telling him of John’s special role in preparing the way for the coming Messiah.

Large crowds came out to see John, to hear his message, to confess their sins, to be baptized. It would have been easy for John to forget his main task. It would have been easy to get caught up in the crowds and growing number of followers. Maybe that is part of why John did not operate out of the temple. There he might have heard whispers of how great he was, of how much he was doing for God. Or maybe the religious leaders would not have ever even let John in the door. He was wild, after all, ministering outside the religious structures of the day. In this way John was much like his cousin Jesus.

John was like Jesus in another important way. He understood the role he came to play. John preached and baptized, called people to repent of their sins, not to build up a following, but to prepare people to follow Jesus. We see and feel John’s humility and dedication to God in verses seven and eight. Here he says, “After me will come one more powerful than I… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. The one who will baptize with the long awaited Holy Spirit is coming.

After baptizing Jesus, John will become less so that Jesus can step into and live out his role according to God’s plan. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as he emerges from the waters of baptism. For three years, Jesus will play his role, defining what it looks like to love God and neighbor with all that you are. As Jesus’ ministry and time on earth comes to a close, he promises to pass on the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believe. Like many disciples who have come before us, we too have received the gift of the Spirit. This gift allows and empowers us to play our roles, guiding us to be live love and light in the world. May we too play our roles, preparing others to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Loving God, we all have a role to play. We are all called to be ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ. Fill us all with the power of the Holy Spirit, guiding us to ever point to your son, the Savior of the world. Amen.


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Way of Life

Reading: Romans 8: 1-11

Verse 1: “There is now no condemnation… because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”.

Once a person accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, life is forever changed. Before accepting Jesus we are tied to the flesh, to the sinful nature within us. Without Christ we live for ourselves, seeking to fulfill selfish desires and pleasures. Our focus is totally inward. The law of sin and death has almost full control of our minds and actions. Only social norms and the legal code keep us from being a frightful society.

In faith terms, before accepting Christ we are dead in our sins and our only future is one of death. We cannot remove the sin in our lives. The guilt and shame remain. But once we enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ we find there is no longer any condemnation. God defeated the power of sin by “sending his son” as a “sin offering” – paying the price once for all. Through this gift we find new life, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”. Through the Spirit’s power and presence we are able to live by the Spirit instead of by the sinful nature inherent within us all. Yes, it is still present and ever seeks to rise up and lead us into sin. But the Spirit of life leads and guides and empowers us to walk according to the new way of life found in and through Jesus our Lord. This day and every day we rejoice in our new life in Christ!

Prayer: Thank you God for the Spirit within. It makes it possible to walk a walk of faith. On my own I would be so lost. The gift of life in Jesus Christ brings joy and peace, contentment and connection to God and to one another. It is the only way to truly live. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Do Not Be Afraid

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verse 28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”.

In our passage for today and tomorrow, Jesus is about to send out the twelve disciples. He reminds them in our section for today that a servant and master should be more alike one another than different. Yes, one might be in charge, but both should treat the other with respect, honor, … There should also be a similarity in their character. In the context of this passage, Jesus is saying that the disciples will go forth and do what Jesus did – teach and heal. These practices remain the core habits of disciples.

Jesus sends them out with eyes wide open. He tells the disciples not to be afraid but to “proclaim from the roofs” the things he has taught and the things “whispered in your ear” by the Holy Spirit. Both of these will lead and guide them. They do not go alone. Nor do we. In verse 28 he reminds them of the higher purpose of the mission and of the ultimate outcome for the faithful. Here Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”. This life is only a mist in comparison to eternity. That is what matters most for the lost. In his words, Jesus assures and empowers, strengthens and builds up the disciples as they prepare to go out to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world in need. Not all will hear the good news; some will reject and even heap abuse on the twelve. This too can be our experience. When this happens we too must remember our call and we must be assured that they cannot kill the soul. That belongs to the Lord. Forever. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, in times of trial and testing, you stood firm. Teach me to do the same, trusting in the Holy Spirit and in your word. This day and every day, may I serve you well. Amen.


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Personal

Reading: Acts 2: 14a and 36

Verse 36: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ”.

Just prior to our reading today the Holy Spirit has come upon the believers and they have spoken in tongues, sharing the story of Jesus Christ in the languages of those gathered from afar. Peter stands to address the bewildered crowd that has gathered around the believers. We pick up Peter’s sermon in verse 36 today, where Peter says, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ”. In the original context the “you” was the Jews. Following their leader’s guidance, the Jews were the voice that drove Pilate to give the orders for crucifixion.

This morning, as I read that verse, it struck me as a first-person “you” – as in “whom you crucified John”. It is as if Jesus was crucified for me and for me alone. My sin is the driving force that placed Jesus on the cross. It is a penetrating thought. Of course, anyone’s name could go in the place of mine. Even your name could. Try reading verse 36 a few times, inserting your name after “crucified”, just as I did. As you read it over and over, allow yourself to feel the weight of it. You crucified Jesus. I crucified Jesus. We all had a hand that held a nail or swung the hammer. The one that came as God in the flesh, the one we identify as Lord and Christ, was crucified for each of us. Not “all of us” but each of us. We need to own this part of the crucifixion.

It is important to do so because then we can own our own part of the resurrection too. In dying for each of us, Jesus opened the way for each of us to live with him now and to one day claim our place in the heavenly realms. Just as these first disciples were each empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life of faith, so too are we each empowered. The Holy Spirit lives in each of us. We do not share it. The Spirit is the personal, indwelling presence of Jesus inside each of us. Tomorrow’s reading will unpack what that means for us.

Remembering that the risen Christ is personal, may we each live today as children of the resurrection, seeking to share our Lord and Savior with a broken and fallen world. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Father God, considering the crucifixion from such a personal space causes me to look within. I wonder what I still hold onto that crucifies your son yet again today. Guide me to search out the roots and to die to that part of myself, making me more fully yours. Amen.


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Surrender

Reading: Psalm 29

Verses 1 and 2: “Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength… worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness”.

In the Psalm we get a sense of God’s wildness in nature. God’s voice is the thunder that rolls over the waters and earth, that shatters the cedars. God’s voice is the lightning that shakes the desert and strips the forest bare. There is power in God’s voice and it feels a bit wild because we cannot control it.

Even though we cannot control the forces of nature and even though it feels a bit wild, there is also a power and glory that draws us in. I love to listen to the rolling thunder and to marvel at the flashes of lightning during a thunderstorm. In truth, I even like to sit outside to better feel the power. The thunder and lightning scream God to me. I cannot control it, but I know the One who does. In those moments that become sacred I join the psalmist as I too “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength… worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness”. In the storm I see God’s glory and strength and am led to worship.

The overall theme this week is baptism. Baptism can also reveal God’s glory and strength. It can draw us into God’s holiness and to a place of worship. But it can also be a bit wild. The Holy Spirit is a part of our baptism. Baptism is an incorporation into the family of God and into the indwelling presence of the Spirit. If we are open to and if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives, then it can get a bit wild. We can find ourselves in places and with people that are unknown and uncomfortable to us. Yet if we trust in the fact that God is in control, then we become an instrument of God as we serve the stranger and the other. It is through and in these experiences that we can meet and worship the Lord.

When we trust God, when we release our lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then we really experience verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”. May we each surrender to God today, living out the faith that we have, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking to be His hands and feet for a world in need. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, you are my all in all. Help me to trust and serve you with all that I am. Amen.


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Like Moses and Joshua…

Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 9-12

Verse Nine: Now Joshua was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him.

How would one ever follow Moses as the leader of the Israelites?  His shoes were mighty big to fill.  Moses actually talked face to face with God.  He came down from the mountain and his face was aglow. Moses had turned water to blood, caused hail, and brought in frogs, flies, and locust.  He had even orchestrated the passing of death over the Israelite homes.  He had called down manna and quail from heaven.  He had parted the sea and made water come from a rock.  How in the world would one follow this guy?

Moses comes down the mountain one last time, knowing his life has drawn to a close.  He comes to Joshua and passes the torch.  Verse nine reads, “Now Joshua was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him”.  Just as Moses was, Joshua has been chosen by God to lead His people.  Moses has already addressed the people and established Joshua as his God-given successor.  Moses spoke of God’s plans for the nation in the Promised Land with Joshua as their leader.  Joshua has been empowered to lead and the people now look to him as their leader.

Joshua steps forward boldly not because of his own strength and abilities.  He steps up not because Moses has passed the torch to him.  Joshua steps up because God has chosen him and has filled him with the Spirit.  All those miracles and signs and wonders during Moses’ leadership?  They were 0% Moses and 100% God.  It will be the same with Joshua.  God will lead and guide them.  Anything done or accomplished will be by God alone and in accordance with His will.  Joshua is a man of deep faith and trust in God.  This is his greatest strength.

Each and every day, Joshua will seek God’s guidance and direction.  Each and every word and action will come through the lead of the Spirit.  Joshua will lead fully trusting in the Lord.  These things are what made Moses a great leader.  They will make Joshua a great leader.  They will also make us great leaders.  In all we do and say and think, may we also strive to lead like Moses and Joshua, fully trusting in the Lord our God.


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Into the Cloud

Reading: Exodus 24: 15-18

Many years ago my wife and I were in Switzerland.  One day we planned to go up into the Alps to see Jungfrau up close and personal.  Jungfrau is a rugged and beautiful mountain.  So we found the little mountain train and rode up the line.  It was a glorious summer day in June.  However, when we got to the small town nestled high up in the Alps, the clouds had settled in around Jungfrau.  I have a lovely picture of a very thick cloud to show what Jungfrau looked like that day.

In our passage today, Moses is not on vacation but is answering God’s call to ‘come up the mountain’.  Aaron and Hur are appointed to settle disputes while Moses and Joshua are gone.  The elders are told to wait for Moses to return.  A cloud descends on the mountain as Moses heads up.  On the seventh day God calls Moses into the cloud.  Stepping into the cloud, Moses enters into God’s presence.  Moses converses with God for a period of forty days and forty nights.  Moses emerges from the cloud filled with knowledge and empowered to lead.

There will be times in our lives when we feel as if God were in a cloud.  In the ordinary days of our faith, we can sense that God is near and in those sacred moments can feel as if we were in the palm of God’s hand.  But at times we feel as if God were distant or were shrouded in a cloud.  In these times, there is a scariness about stepping into the cloud, into the unknown or unseen.  But just as God called Moses, He too calls us to trust in Him and to faithfully walk forward in faith, knowing that God will guide our steps.  Of course, we know that God is never distant or gone.  It is only that at times we feel this way.  In those times of doubt and fear and uncertainty, may we step boldly into God’s presence, as Moses did, trusting God to transform and empower us as well.