pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Work in Progress

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Our passage for today begins with Jesus telling his disciples that he will suffer, be rejected, and be killed by the religious leaders. All is not to be lost, though. After three days he will rise again. These words must have been hard for the disciples to hear. But they are not totally shocking either. Jesus was often at odds with the religious leaders. Peter is the one to try and correct Jesus. He tries to tell Jesus that these things will never happen. He has to stay with them, he has to keep ministering to the people. It makes perfect sense that Peter is among those who will soon see Jesus transfigured on the mountain.

Jesus turns to Peter and says perhaps the harshest words to ever come from his lips: “Get behind me, Satan”! I imagine Peter fell back a step or two. This was the disciple who walked on water, who will pledge to die with Jesus, who will draw his sword to defend Jesus. Satan? This is also the disciple who chased the little children away, who will fall asleep in the garden, who will deny even knowing Jesus three times in the courtyard. Oh how I see myself in Peter. Do you?

In verse 33 Jesus lays this charge on Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”. It is so easy to become focused on what I think matters, on what I want to do (or not do), on what I feel like in that moment, on what I think is right. Jesus is speaking to me too. Yes, too often I am not thinking first of the things of God. I am thankful that just as Jesus did with Peter, he does with me. The Holy Spirit convicts me, yes, but then leads me deeper into relationship, deeper into my commitment to following Jesus, as I seek to ever walk in the light. Like Peter, we are all a work in progress. We are all growing closer to our Lord and Savior. Jesus never gives up on us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever at work in me. You are a loving but refining teacher. I so need both. Thank you for your patience and love, for your commitment and steadfastness. 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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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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Connected

Reading: Psalm 50: 1-2

Verse 1: “The mighty one, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Psalm 50 opens with the image of God, mighty in power, calling out to all the earth. God “speaks and summons” from east to west. To all of the earth – mankind, plants, animals, all of creation – God calls out. Can you see the trees straightening up ever so slightly? Can you notice the bluejay quieting its song for just a moment? Can you sense God’s presence there with you at the start and end of your day? What about the moments in between?

God is there for all of creation. In the beginning the work of his hands was pleasing to God. God called his work “good” or “very good” in the case of humankind. God, the Lord, continues to be in love with all of creation. It is all the work of his hands. The question that comes to mind this morning is this: how do we acknowledge and honor God’s connection to all of creation? In the general or corporate sense we begin by loving all of creation as God loves it. We continue to reveal his love by caring well for the created world and for one another. A second way we can love all of creation is by being connected ourselves.

God interacts with the world and with each of us every single day. One of my best and favorite ways to be connected is to literally write out each morning the ways that God blessed my life the day before. My list of 5-8 things contains mostly small ways that God blessed me or my day. I also close my quiet time each morning by writing about an act of kindness or two that I did to bless another that previous day. Both keep me focused on the love of God as it is revealed in the world and in my life. Both keep me mindful of my calls to love God and to love others.

In what ways do you seek to be in connection with God, with the created world, and with your fellow human beings each day? How do you take time each day to praise God for these connections and for the blessings in your life?

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, each day it humbles and amazes me to pause and look at the ways you touch my life and my days. Thank you for your love and care. I too am blessed when I touch other’s lives in small ways, sharing your love and care. Thank you for these blessings. Continue to use me each day as the revelation of your love and care for all of creation. Amen.


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Being In and Sharing Out

Reading: Psalm 147: 1-11 and 20

Verse 11: “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love”.

Using the opening verses of Psalm 147, we focused yesterday on some of the ways that God loves and cares for humankind. Recognizing God’s love and care led the psalmist and calls us to praise God. In verses ten and eleven the focus shifts slightly. Although God created the world and all that is in it, God does not find pleasure or delight in the “strength of the horse” or in the “legs of a man” or in any other physical thing or attribute. We feel loved when we reflect on God’s care for us, but we do not praise or worship the home or food or whatever else God provides. We worship and praise the one who creates and provides these things.

God finds pleasure and delight in us, those created in his image. In verse eleven we read, “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love”. God delights in those who live in reverence and awe of who God is: holy and perfect, all-knowing and all-seeing, loving and merciful, just and compassionate. God delights in those who place their hope in his love. God finds pleasure when we live in close relationship with God, when we have faith in God, not in any of the things of this world.

How do we live our lives in such a way that shows God that our relationship with him is the most important thing in our life? It begins by striving to follow his example of love and compassion, justice and grace, healing and community. The example was given by God incarnate in Jesus. We show God by connecting with him – personally in prayer and study, corporately in worship and discipleship. If all we say and do is aimed at being in God’s presence and sharing that presence with the world, then we are “living praise” – bringing glory to the Lord. This day may we each be living praise, glorifying God in all that we are.

Prayer: Lord, you are my all in all. Without you I would be lost. Fill me to overflowing with your presence so that all I meet sense your love being poured out into their lives. Amen.


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Is God the Focus?

Reading: 1st Corinthians 7: 29-31

Verses 29 and 31: “…the time is short… For this world in its present form is passing away”.

Paul writes today of the constant tension that Christians have and always will live in. Our passage today begins with “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short”. Here Paul is first thinking in terms of Jesus’ return. The first believers believed that his return was imminent. Paul is also thinking of our time here on earth. Our lives, even if we live into our eighties or nineties, is but a mist compared to eternity. Under both of these arguments, Paul is calling the Corinthians and all believers to really focus in on what matters most during our lives so that our eternity is spent in heaven with God.

In the body of this passage Paul tells his readers not to focus on family or on happiness or mourning or on the things we own. He warns us not to become too “engrossed” with the things of this world – status, wealth, titles, popularity… As folks who live in this day and age, we know the lures of this world quite well. Society and culture elevates these very things that Paul warns about as the meaning and purpose of life. Society and culture seek to tie our value and our identity and our “success” to what we own and to the power we have because of our title or position or wealth. According to Paul, all of these things are not to be our focus. He sums up our passage and his argument with these words: “For this world in its present form is passing away”. One day all of this will be no more. One day a new heaven and earth will be the reality. My house, my car, my bank account, my job, my titles, my accomplishments – all will be no more. And if I die before Jesus returns, I will not keep or take any of these things with me. They do not matter.

Paul reminds us today to focus on God as our first love, as our main connection, as the focal point in this life. The wisdom of the ages has taught us that where we spend our time and our money truly reveals what is most important to us. As you consider your allocation of these resources, do they reveal God as your focus? Is God your priority?

Prayer: Lord God, while I begin my day in time with you and while I “work” at a church, too often I am concerned with the things of this world. Draw me away from these concerns and desires and pull me deeper into love with you. Delve into my heart, be my all in all. Amen.


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Hour by Hour, Day by Day

Reading: Mark 13: 30-37

Verse 34: “He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task”.

As this chapter in Mark about the signs of the end of the age comes to a close, Jesus reminds his disciples and followers that no one knows when he will return. Even Jesus himself does not know when. Therefore he says, “Be on guard! Be alert”! As is often the case when we wait and wait and wait, our focus or attention can lag or fade. If I, for example, were to plan to run a marathon in October 2022, I probably would not start training today. If were planning to enter the next race as soon as I were able to run 26.2 miles, then I would start training today. That is Jesus’ point in this section of Mark 13.

In verse 34 Jesus says, “He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task”. About 2,000 years ago Jesus left this temporary house on earth to spend eternity with his father in heaven. Jesus left us each with a task or a role to play. These are the gifts of the Spirit that we read about yesterday in 1st Corinthians 1. Some are pastors, some are teachers. Some are encouragers, some are prayer warriors. Some are missionaries, some are singers. Some are greeters, some are readers. Some are audio-visual folks, some are cooks and bakers. There are many roles to play in the family of God, in the church. When the owner of this house returns, will he find us sleeping? Or will we be actively living out our faith, serving God and one another, ready to meet him at any moment?

Hour by hour, day by day, life by life, may we be ready to serve the Lord, his church, and his world.

Prayer: Lord of all, help me to always be ready to do your will. As you have gifted me, so may I serve. Put me to doing, put me to all things, put me to nothing. Use me as you will, O Lord. Amen.


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Serve with All Faithfulness

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3 and 14-25

Verse 14: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped”.

As we enter the story at the end of the book of Joshua, the Israelites have entered and taken full possession of the Promised Land. God has led them to victory after victory under Joshua and now there is peace in the land. In chapter 23 Joshua says goodbye to the leaders of Israel. As a final act, in today’s and tomorrow’s readings, Joshua calls the people together to renew their covenant with the Lord our God.

Faithfulness to God has always been a challenge. In the wilderness, the Israelites whined and grumbled, they questioned Moses and God, they even fashioned and worshiped an idol. On the brink of entering the Promised Land, they doubted and feared that what lay ahead was too big even for God. Now that peace reigns, will the people lose focus on the God who has led them so far? Yes! We do too. I pray really well when in the midst of a struggle or time of suffering. I am dialed in. But when life is good, when all is well in my world, the bright and shiny of the world begins to look better. Joshua knows the people’s history and perhaps he knows about our tendency to drift. So his final action as the leader of God’s people is to gather them all together to tell them: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped”. This is Joshua’s version of “love the Lord our God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”. Focus on God, throw away all those idols you have stashed at the bottom of the moving box… Idols are always there, however. The peoples living around the Israelites will always have idols to worship. Marriages and other interactions will bring these idols before their eyes and hearts over and over. The temptation will always be present. And so it is with us. The world and the people living around us promote and worship all sorts of idols – money, possessions, popularity, titles… Our modern culture ever calls us towards more, better, bigger, newer… We too need to hear the call to “fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness”. As we hear this call again today, may we, like Joshua, choose to declare: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. May the Lord our God bless each of us today as seek to live out this statement of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, this is a lovely statement, a lofty goal. Make it more than sentiment, more than an ideal. This day – this very day – may I serve you only. Tomorrow will be another day. I’ll have to ask again tomorrow. Today, Lord, today may I serve you only. Amen.


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A Relationship with God

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-4 and 7-9

Verses 3 and 9: “You shall have no other gods before me… Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”.

In today’s and tomorrow’s readings we hear Moses speak, giving the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. They have been wandering in the wilderness and are ready to hear from God. As they draw nearer to the Promised Land, God begins to give them some rules to live by. Being dependant upon God not only for your meat, bread, and water but also for which direction to go has kept the people focused on God. Once they enter the Promised Land, settle down, and begin living, it will be easier to forget or neglect God. This is our pattern too. When life is good, we often forget our need for God. When we allow busyness a foothold, we neglect God. Times in the wilderness remind us of our need for God.

The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God. In general these four are about honoring our relationship with God. The first reminds us that God is God. Therefore, we shall have no other gods. Thus, God prohibits idols – things that take the place of God. Next is another prohibition: do not take God’s name in vain. The fourth calls upon us to keep the Sabbath holy, mirroring God’s actions in the creation narrative. For Jews and Christians, there is only one God. The creator and sustainer of the universe and all life is clearly the only God. There is one supreme being. God desires to be #1 in our lives. When our focus is on God, when he is leading us through life, when we recognize God as the giver of our water, food, resources, money… then God is #1 in our lives.

Our relationship with God falters or suffers when we allow idols or other “gods” (small ‘g’) to ascend to #1. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, it would be the labor of their hands and the allure of the cultures around them that would draw their focus away from God. When we get too caught up in work and wealth and in the world around us, we too lose focus. That is why keeping the Sabbath holy is so important. It reminds us of God. It breaks the pattern of work, work, work. It draws us away from the world. When we intentionally lay aside our labors and we turn all of our focus to keeping the holy day holy, we reconnect with God. In doing so we find rest and renewal for our souls and for our bodies. Each and every week, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bless and keep me, lead and guide me. May each day of work be fruitful. May each Sabbath be holy. Teach me balance in my life. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Trust

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse 5: “I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”.

David follows the typical pattern found in lament Psalms: pouring out his heart and his pain and then coming to the Lord in praise. I think that this pattern is typical of many of our deepest relationships. At times we need to express the hurt or frustration or anger that we are experiencing and then we can move on in that situation or relationship. On a smaller scale that is “venting” or “letting off steam”. On a bigger scale it can be finally having that really good cry. Both bring relief or cleanse our thoughts and emotions enough so that we can focus on what really matters. For persons of faith, that means focusing first on God and on our relationship with God.

In verse five David finally gets to this point. Here he writes, “I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”. Head and heart being expressed, he can now turn to the more eternal, more powerful force: God. I too can get bogged down in the worldly stuff from time to time. It can be a difficult situation or it can just be from too much busyness. In those times the focus becomes more on me and my concerns. God seems to take more of a back seat. Then I end up where David is in the first few verses of Psalm 13 – feeling distant from God and wondering where God went. Soon enough God reminds me that it was me who created distance, me who allowed something else to take priority in my life or heart or mind. In a passage or something I read, in a song or in the words of a friend, I am reminded of that unfailing love and of the hope I have in his saving grace. It is then that a song or prayer of praise fills my heart.

Songs of lament are good reminders that life will be hard at times. We will struggle, especially when we shift our eyes and focus from the one who is worthy of our praise. Today’s Psalm reminds us to allow ourselves to feel and to express our emotions to God, trusting in his love and care. May we ever turn to God, the rock of our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, in the highs and lows, you are the same. Whether I am on the mountaintop or in the depth of the valley, you are steadfast and true. Remind me over and over to turn to you, to hold fast to you. You are my rock and only hope. Amen.