pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Fit for Service??

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King”.

Photo credit: Michal Matlon

Today and tomorrow we read of God’s call on Isaiah’s life. In the opening chapters of the book of Isaiah the case is laid out for why the Israelites desperately need a prophet to speak God’s word to them. They are the “people of unclean lips” that Isaiah lives among.

As the story of his call opens in chapter six Isaiah finds himself face to face with God Almighty. The Lord is on the throne and “the train of his robe fills the temple”. The Lord is a very big presence in Isaiah’s vision. All around the Lord are seraphs, amazing creatures with six wings. Covering their faces and their feet in reverance to the Lord, they sing of God’s holiness and glory. Their worship is so powerful that the heavens shake and smoke fills the temple. Isaiah’s response is honest and raw. He is both humbled and afraid to be in God’s presence.

In verse five we hear Isaiah’s response: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King”. If I were to come face to face with God, I don’t think my reaction would be much different. When the imperfect encounters the perfect, when the limited encounters the limitless, it is natural to want to shrink back, to want to become invisible. The contrast is just so great. And yet God chose to bring Isaiah into his presence. God saw Isaiah not as imperfect or limited or as sinful but as one worthy of service in the kingdom of God.

Like Isaiah, you and I are people of unclean lips. You and I live among a people of unclean lips, in a nation that has drifted from the Lord. God does not look at us and see failure or sin or imperfection. He looks at you and me and sees another fit for service in building the kingdom of God. Draw into his presence, how will we respond?

Prayer: Lord God, I marvel that you can use even me. Long a man of unclean lips and one that still stumbles now and then, you still chose me. You drew me into your presence, you began to work in me. Thankfully you saw more within me than I did and you’ve been drawing that out. Please continue to work in me and to use me as you will. Amen.


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Always, Always

Reading: Psalm 51: 7-12

Verse 11: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”.

Photo credit: Jonas Jacobsson

Originally the Psalms were songs or prayers used to worship God. The Psalms express the collective whole of our human emotions, the challenges of our faith, and the depth of God’s love for us. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer to God that encompasses all three of these expressions.

Lent is a time when we also express these things as we look within and seek to live a more faithful life. When we do as David does in this Psalm – bearing his heart and soul to a holy and just God – there is a deep trust that God will cleanse us and will bring us healing, that God will “restore to me the joy of your salvation”. There is also a hard reality too. To “create in me a pure heart” and to cleanse me, God has to get a good, clear look at my sins and failures. That is humbling. That feels vulnerable.

Have you ever messed up really bad and you know that you have to go and apologize? You know you need to try and make things right again. You want to restore the relationship. But you really messed up. In your heart and mind you wonder if they’ll forgive you or if they’ll send you packing. Even though David has walked a long time with God, there is a part of him cautious about bringing these sins before God. David really messed up. This feeling runs beneath the surface of the Psalm. In his mind, great is his sin. A part of David wonders if God will restore those “crushed bones”… In verse eleven David pleads, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”. God, don’t send me packing. These words of David acknowledge God as the one with the power and ability to cleanse and restore, as the one who renews and sustains us. And these words express a desire to be in God’s presence, to continue in relationship with God. This desire connects into David’s request for knowing again the joy of salvation and of having a “willing spirit” within that sustains him.

In our human relationships we do sometimes wonder if they’ll forgive us. Did we mess up too bad this time? With God there really is no doubt, no questioning, no point of being “too bad”. God always, always seek to cast the net wide, to guide us back into a right relationship with him. As David did, we must enter into his holy and just presence, trusting in a love that is greater than all of our sin. Thanks be to God for his love.

Prayer: God, create in me a willing spirit, a deep desire to have a pure heart. Cleanse me daily of my iniquities, restore me often to the joy of your salvation. Grant me a willing spirit that seeks to be in an intimate and personal relationship with you. 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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God’s Design

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5:11

Verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

On our faith journeys, we can try and go it alone. We are embarrassed by or ashamed of our sins and failures. We go through the motions of faith and pretend we are doing okay when our faith feels dry or when a trial has beset us. We try and push through seasons of doubt because society tells us we just need to try harder. Our pride and ego refuses to ask for help. But God did not design faith to be this way. God designed faith to be a communal pursuit. Yet if we are to truly be a part of the community of faith, if we are going to have real and deep relationships, then we must be honest and transparent, authentic and vulnerable, committed and compassionate.

Our passage today is just one verse. Again, it reads: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. Because the world is challenging, because the dark and evil are ever present, Paul knows that the believers need to be surrounded by Christian community. Paul begins by telling us to encourage one another. To be able to encourage one another, we need to really know how we each are doing. This is where honesty… comes into play. We must be willing to share our burdens with one another. We must also be willing to carry another’s burdens at times. We must be willing to tell others when our faith feels thin, allowing them to pour into us and to fill us up. Similarly, we must be willing to give of ourselves, to pour into another as we are able. Paul also urges us to build one another up. We do this by sharing our faith. This can be actual teaching or it can be living the faith so others can see what it looks like. Pastors and teachers and small group leaders and mentors are all a part of this process. We also build one another up by being present. We celebrate successes and achievements, we rejoice when a baby is born, we bring food and love and presence in times of hardship and suffering and loss.

The church in Thessalonica was living as a community. It was how God designed the church. As we ponder these thoughts today, may we each consider how we could encourage and build up the body of Christ this week.

Prayer: Living God, lead me by the power of the Holy Spirit to be an encourager and a builder. Help me to see the ways that I can help the community of faith to be like a family, like the heavenly fellowship that we all await. Bind us together in your love. Amen.


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Rejoice in the Love

Reading: Psalm 107: 33-37

Verse 35: “He turned the desert into pools of water and parched ground into flowing springs”.

While many of the Psalms are often songs of thanksgiving overall, they do have their honest moments too. The psalmists, to their credit, acknowledge the failures and sins of the past. This is the case in today’s passage. In verses 33 and 34 the rivers turn into deserts and the fruitful land becomes a wasteland. This happens, we read, because of the people’s wickedness. In our own way, we experience this when we sin. Our sin separates us from God. In that place, our joy and hope seems to “dry up” and life feels empty and barren. This is not God’s doing, but our doing. As we ourselves are still present, it just feels like God has left.

This state of drought or dryness, of being parched and hungry – it does not last. Through God’s steadfast love and unending mercy, the desert becomes a pool and there is food for the hungry. In our Psalm, as God sometimes does, things are not just restored to what they were. If that were the case, the Psalm would end in verse 35. God blesses the people, giving them a place to live and providing good land to plant fields and vineyards. Life will not just be bearable or tolerable – it will be good and it will be blessed. God’s generous spirit will be evident to the people of faith.

We too rejoice in the love of God. I close with verse 43 from this same Psalm: “Whoever is wise, let him [or her] heed these things and consider the great love of God”. Yes, may we too be grateful as we think of God’s great love.

Prayer: Father God, each day you are so good to me. My thanks is ever yours. I too know that in the difficult days, in the times of hardship and suffering, you will be right there. Thank you for your presence and love that are always with me. Amen.


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Aware and Attuned

Reading: Psalm 90: 13-17

Verse 16: “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children”.

The Israelites have always been good historians. But unlike our study of history, which includes kings and wars, victories and achievements… the history of the Israelites centers on God and how God’s hand has been at work in their past. Seeing one’s history as the unfolding hand of God at work in our lives and in our world frames our understanding in a very different perspective. It shifts us from the great things that we or humankind has done (while avoiding or skipping past the failures and ugly things), to looking at the great things that God has done. In the Bible, the history contains the failures and defeats as well as the successes and victories.

Verse thirteen opens with a cry of “Relent, O Lord”! The psalmist next wonders how long it will be. How long will we suffer for our sins? That is really the question being asked. The psalmist begs for God’s compassion and the dawning of a new day when God’s unfolding love will fall upon them. This is a reality that we experience in our own relationship with God. When we sin we cause separation. In that time we are distant from God. The Holy Spirit’s conviction makes us aware of our failure and through repentance God restores our relationship. Once again we feel God’s mercy and love. Like the psalmist and like the Israelites, we long to sing for joy and to know gladness all of our days.

In verse sixteen we read, “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children”. To know and hear about the deeds of God over and over is to be reminded of God’s best qualities and of our role in bringing those to our own awareness. The more we seek to be aware of and in tune with God, the more we come to be aware of and in tune with God. When we are intentional about seeking God’s “deeds” we become aware of God in the smallest of ways – in a descant added to a song of worship, in the heart of a youth reaching out with love and compassion, in the kindness and generosity shared in a card. Each day may we seek the Lord. In doing so, “may the favor of the Lord rest upon us”.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself in so many ways. I am an imperfect and sinful creature. Thank you for the whispers of conviction and the nudges back into the path of faith. Thank you for the small ways you reveal yourself, always reminding me of your constant presence in my life and in our world. 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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Anything

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 4: “Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What am I to do with these people'”?

As the people come to be in need of water, they come to Moses and they quarrel with him about it. He is their leader. There is no water. They want Moses to do something about it. Moses realizes that he cannot do anything about it so he turns to the one who can. Even though he was frustrated, Moses turns to God and God responds by providing water from a rock in the middle of the desert.

I cannot blame Moses for being a bit frustrated. Time and time again the people have quarreled and tested both Moses and God. So much so that Moses names the place of the miracle as such! Moses does what he should do – he goes to God. Unfortunately many of us do not follow this example, myself included, especially in my past. When something was wrong or needed taken care of, I fixed it or did it. That was my nature. I was a “doer”. So much so, when I was moved to my first church as the only pastor, I had to learn a couple of hard lessons. I was warned by my district superintendent not to just do everything. He made my natural leaning seem like a bad thing. Even though I was warned not to do everything, to allow others to do, I had a learning curve that proved the wisdom of his words.

Whether it is pride or the need to be in control that drives us to be a doer or if it is fear of failure or of disappointing others that drives us to get inaction, like Moses, a quick turn towards God should be our first step. And often our second and third and…

In our passage today, God pretty much ignored Moses’ frustration. God led Moses to a rock, which he struck, and water poured out. Read that again. Yes, water came from a rock in the middle of the desert. God can do anything. Anything. If we but turn. Like Moses, may our attitude be one of surrender and may our first steps be toward God. Then we too will see and experience the amazing power of God.

Prayer: Lord God, continue to mold and shape me into who you intend me to be. I am grateful for the journey so far, and I know there is far to go. I am even thankful for the times you’ve had to squash the clay, to begin almost from scratch – painful but necessary steps in my process. Day by day, lead and guide me, shape and form me, O God. Amen.


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Lead in Love

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 19: “When the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and said, ‘Peace be with you!'”

Following his death the disciples gathered together in their small community and were present to one another. The recent events left them feeling powerless and vulnerable. There was a sense of fear hanging over them. If this could happen to him, it could happen to any of them. If the Jews, the ones filled with power and fears of their own, could flex their muscles and cause this to happen to Jesus, the disciples were well within their reach.

Fear is certainly present in our society today. COVID has created many: fear of dying, fear of sickness, fear or losing a business, fear of financial failure, fear of isolation… Fear is also very present right now in some of our cities and in some of our social groups. Another senseless death has sent another ripple of fear through affected communities. The ripple had become a flood of emotion and response in some places. Even though there is no place for hate in God’s kingdom, it remains something that humanity is struggling with in this world.

As the disciples gathered on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, locked behind some closed doors, he came and said, “Peace be with you”! They were overjoyed. Speaking directly into their fear he said, “I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus encourages them to walk into the world tinged with hate and oppression as people filled with love and power. The Spirit would be the source of love and power and strength and hope. It was a presence the disciples would need as they set out to transform the world.

The Holy Spirit continues to lead with love. It is a love for all people, not just for some. It is a love that leads to compassion and understanding and empathy and unity. It is a love that is both culture blind and colorblind. Just yesterday I read a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “Protest is the voice of the powerless”. Yes, often it is. The root cause is powerlessness. Feeling powerless leads to feeling hopeless and helpless. In moving forward may the disciples of Jesus Christ continue to allow the Holy Spirit to lead in love. We with power must choose to be voices for those without. For the healing of our communities and of our world, may God’s love lead the way. May it start with each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, the Holy Spirit empowered the first disciples to transform their world. It began with them loving you above all else and then spread to loving one another. The community was based upon love and grace and mercy and compassion and justice. Their love changed the world. Make it happen again, Lord. Empower your disciples today to be change agents once again, leading the way across divides and through barriers. Let love be our guide, bringing healing and restoration. May it begin with me, O God. Amen.


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Path of Life

Reading: Acts 2:28

Verse 28: “You have made known to me the paths of life: you will fill me with joy in your presence”.

Today’s reading was just one verse. It has two parts which are interrelated. The first half of the verse centers on the “paths of life”. What does David mean by this phrase? Just as it was for David, so it was for the man quoting him in this verse. Peter was a man who was a work in progress as he learned the path of following Jesus. That path, after all, is the path of life. Like David and Peter, we too are a work in progress. As Methodism founder John Wesley put it, we are on a “journey to perfection”. What he meant by this is that faith is an ongoing journey to become more and more like the perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ.

Also like David and Peter, we too have failures in our walk with the Lord. Our failures might not reach the level of adultery and murder or of total denial of our faith, but in our own ways we break our relationship with the Lord. Whether that comes a million times through what we think are “small” sins that we struggle with or through a season pursuing the things of this world or caught up in an addiction that feels like a “big” sin, it does not matter. All sin separates us from God. The path of sin is not the path of life. The Lord never gave up on David or on Peter. He will not ever give up on you or me either.

The second half of the verse today centers on joy. Joy and happiness are not the same thing. The world wants us to be happy. We think possessions or titles or popularity will bring us joy. Pursuit and attainment of these earthly things does make us feel good. But the feeling does not last. There is no joy in things. As we study and learn the ways of Jesus, we see that his life revolved around serving others, sharing a relationship with others, healing the brokenness and isolation of others, forgiving other’s sins. His life as a loving and humble servant is our model. We will find what he found when we walk his path. When we give ourselves away, we do not lose but we gain. When we humbly serve God and others, we are filled with a joy that is everlasting. This is the path of life. May we give of ourselves freely and generously today, in whatever form that may be.

Prayer: Father God, help me to walk on the path of your son, Jesus Christ. Help me to love extravagantly today. May I be poured out in service to you and to all I meet today. Amen.