pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Pure and Steadfast

Reading: Psalm 51: 10-12

Verse 12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.

We return to Psalm 51 today. The Psalm comes from the messiness that has just occurred in David’s life. This is something we all experience. We cannot totally avoid sin – we are human.

Sometimes I think I could be less sinful if I lived an isolated life. If I were a monk or hermit maybe I’d sin less. But then I realize that my humanity would creep in. I’d get jealous of that monk who was recognized. I’d be angry that this other monk didn’t do his fair share in the garden. I’d long to be the one asked to lead this or that. Even in that monastic lifestyle I’d still struggle with sin. There too I’d have times when I failed to act, when I chose not to offer kindness, when I’d keep my gifts and talents to myself. I’d not escape these sins either.

David’s prayer for God to “create in me a pure heart… a steadfast spirit within me” needs to be my prayer too. Being pure and steadfast are always things I struggle with. Our section of Psalm 51 closes with these words: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”. This verse follows David’s plea to not be “cast” away. Yes, our sin is ever before us. But so is God. Out of our repentance God will ever be right there to redeem and restore us. Yes, Lord, give us a willing spirit; sustain us all in this journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, so often I fail and yet your mercy remains. So often I harm our relationship or my relationships with others, yet your grace always abounds. Your love is so great. Thank you for loving me beyond myself. Amen.


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With the Heart

Reading: 1st Samuel 15:34 – 16:13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.

Photo credit: Tom Swinnen

Last week one of our readings was from 1st Samuel 8. In this reading the Israelites demanded a king. They wanted to be like all the other nations around them. God grants their request. But Saul, the first king, soon needed replacement. As Saul’s leadership declined, Samuel spoke out, becoming unpopular and feared. In 1st Samuel 15 God finally rejects Saul as king and, as our reading today begins, God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel. Saul is not dead yet. He remains king.

Overcoming Samuel’s objections God sends him to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. When Samuel sees Eliab, Jesse’s oldest, he thinks surely this is the one – eldest, tall, strong. ‘Not this one’, God says. In verse seven we read, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. Six more sons pass by Samuel – none of these either. Samuel asks Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have”? The youngest is out in the fields tending the sheep. Eliab once tended the sheep. Then Abinadab came along and it became his job. And so it went. These were the norms of the day. The oldest son, the one who inherited a double portion, the one who is tall and strong – surely he will be the anointed one. If you choose as man would choose. God sees things differently. God looks at the heart.

We continue to struggle with the practice of judging by appearance. Or with our preconceived notions or with our inherent prejudices. We look at how someone dresses and dismiss them as a potential friend. We look at how someone looks and we dismiss them as a potential employee. We look at someone’s ethnicity and dismiss them as a potential teammate. We look at someone’s behavior and we dismiss them as a potential brother or sister in Christ. When we judge in these ways, may Samuel’s words echo in our head: “The Lord has not chosen this one either”. And may we realize that the Lord is speaking to us, about us. When we judge another by dress, looks, ethnicity, behavior, or any other human metric, we are far from the heart of God. May it not be so. May we see as God sees: with the heart.

Prayer: Loving God, when my prejudices, my experiences, my notions… rise up and begin to judge another’s worthiness, cut me off. Use the Holy Spirit to draw me up short, to prune me off where I need pruned. Open my eyes and heart to see and love as you see and love. Amen.


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Jars of Clay

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 5-12

Verse 6: “For God… made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of… Christ”.

Photo credit: Freestocks

In our passage today Paul works out the idea that we have “this treasure in jars of clay”. Paul is using a metaphor that would have stood out and caught his audience’s attention. Clay jars were common, everywhere. It was the every day container for storing all sorts of things. Clay jars were cheap, easily replaced. So who would put their treasure in a jar of clay? It could be easily smashed, the treasure removed quickly.

In the metaphor we are the jars of clay. Our faith is fragile – easily broken by the cares of this world and by the temptations of the evil one. We are over seven billion strong – commonplace and too often treated as easily replaced. Just as no one would put their valued treasures in clay jars, why in the world would the God of the universe place his treasure in us human beings?

Well, the treasure is not gold or any other temporal, earthly thing of value. The treasure God places in our heart is the Spirit of his Son, Jesus Christ. Paul puts it this way in verse six: “For God… made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of… Christ”. This “all-encompassing power”, this treasure, gives us strength when hard pressed – so we are not crushed. It gives us the wisdom of God when we are perplexed – so that we will not despair. It gives us courage and support when we are persecuted, reminding us that God never abandons us. It keeps hope alive in us when we are struck down, whispering into our heart that nothing in all of creation can destroy our place in God’s family – here or in the time to come. This is but a short list of what the all-surpassing power of God does in our lives.

As we rejoice in what the power of God’s Spirit does in our lives, let us also pause to think of those we know who are jars of clay – perhaps a bit broken, definitely fragile, maybe seen as worthless or commonplace at best. As we think of these, how can this “light of Christ” within us shine into their lives, bringing that same strength, wisdom, courage, support, hope, sense of belonging… that we treasure?

Prayer: Lord God, I am so grateful for your presence in my life. The ways you touch and are present to me make walking a life of faith possible. May your light and love shine out of me, revealing your glory for all to see. Amen.


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Walking in the Light

Reading: 1st John 1:5 – 2:2

Verse 7: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin”.

Yesterday we looked at the idea of having fellowship with Jesus, the light. Continuing on in 1st John 1 and into chapter two, John unpacks what it means to walk in the light. John uses the familiar language of light and darkness imagery to represent good and evil. In God “there is no darkness at all”. God is good and holy and righteous and perfect. In verse six John explains that if we claim to be in fellowship with God and then sin, we “lie and do not live by the truth”. Sin separates us from God. Our darkness cannot be a part of God’s light.

Sin is a reality in our lives. We are imperfect human beings, attracted to the pleasures of the world. John warns against thinking otherwise. In verse eight he states “If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves”. We are all sinners. But we are not necessarily condemned. In the next verse John gives us hope: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins”. God does not want us to be slaves to our sin. God does not want us to stay stuck in our sin. God desires to be in fellowship, in relationship with us. So God provides a way.

Jesus Christ is our “atoning sacrifice”, the one who already paid the price for our sins. Not only has the price been paid, but Jesus continues to “speak to the Father in our defense”. Jesus continues to stand between us and the judgment of God. In alignment with these words, the Spirit speaks into our hearts, guiding us in the way of Christ. With the Spirit’s power and presence it is possible to walk in the light. Holy Spirit, lead and guide us today!

Prayer: Lord, I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus. Fill me with your Spirit power today, enabling me to live as your child today. Amen.


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Emptied

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-9

Verse 7: “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness”.

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Paul begins chapter two in his letter to the church in Philippi with an invitation to “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” with Jesus Christ. Paul encourages the church to “look not only to your own interests” and invites them to this: “in humility consider others better than yourselves”. These are the ideas and invitations that proceed our reading for today. In today’s passage Paul calls on us to have the attitude of Christ.

Speaking of the incarnation Paul begins by reminding us that Jesus gave up his divinity, his “equality with God”. Jesus made the choice to be like us: “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness”. Instead of coming as the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, almighty God that he was and is, Jesus emptied himself of all this and came in human form. Jesus humbled himself to walk as one of us.

The act of emptying oneself is something we are called to, especially during Lent. The ongoing invitation in the season of Lent is to look within, to find that which limits our obedience to God, and to die to these things. Jesus gave up much to be like us. We are asked to do the same for him: give up our human rights, wants, desires… to be like Christ.

So on this last Friday in March, as we stand on the edge of Holy Week, we ask ourselves: What do I need to empty from my life to be more like Jesus Christ? What do I need to die to so that I can serve him better? How will I let these parts of me go?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to that within me that keeps me from walking closer to you. Give me the courage to look within, whether deeply or in the shallow end. Elevate the voice of the Holy Spirit to speak truth into my soul. Make me more like Jesus Christ. Amen.


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For This Reason

Reading: John 12: 27-33

Verse 27: “Now my heart is troubled… It was for this very reason I came to this hour”.

In our passage for today we see a mingling of the human and the divine. The human part of Jesus says, “Now my heart is troubled”. He knows what lies ahead. Jesus is well aware of the events that will unfold. The betrayal. The beating. The nails. The agony. The pain and then the last breath. My heart would be greatly troubled too. This side of Jesus ponders asking God to “save me from this hour”.

Jesus is not only human. There is a connection to the divine too. He is God incarnate, God in the flesh. The divine within triumphs as he says, “It was for this very reason I came to this hour”. Yes, Jesus came to show us what it looks like to obediently live out God’s love in the world. Even more, though, he came to defeat the powers of sin and death – humanity’s two great enemies. In defeating the two main weapons of Satan, Jesus glorifies God. God has the final word. This small victory is a taste of the final victory that will come when Jesus returns at the end of this age. In this moment, God speaks from heaven, affirming Jesus’desire to glorify God through the cross.

Our passage closes with Jesus pointing towards the other side of the cross. In verse 32 he says, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men [and women] to myself”. When he is resurrected the chains of sin and death will be forever broken. Freeing humanity from that which binds us to the earth, Jesus draws us to himself, to the eternal. There is more, though. Jesus does not wait for us to die to draw us to himself. As we live out our earthly lives the Spirit draws us into Jesus’ love, peace, grace, strength, beauty, joy, hope, forgiveness… as we live as a child of God. In Spirit, Jesus walks this life with us through the highs and lows and every place in between.

One day we will be lifted up and will experience the full glory of God in eternity. Day by day we experience Jesus’ presence in all of life. As we do so, may we seek to help draw others to Christ, bringing God the glory in all we do and say and think. This is the reason that we exist too. May we draw others to Jesus, sharing his love with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, your son gave all for me. In your great love for us you gave him up to the powers of this world. Thank you. Guide me, O God, to give all for you. Use me as you will. Pour me out for others. Amen.


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Covenant God

Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7

Verse 7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants”.

Photo credit: Geda Zyvatkauskaite

Yesterday as we looked at this passage we focused on how we are to keep the covenant. We are to “walk before God and be blameless”. God set this as the goal and Jesus lived out the example, giving us a goal to aim for, a model to follow. This is “how” we are to live out the covenant. Today we turn to the “why”.

God chose Abram to be the father of not only many nations but of God’s children. This was not something Abram decided and then set out to accomplish. God is the one who offers covenant relationship to Abram and Sarai. God is the one who invites them to be a partaker in the covenant. God is the one who upholds the covenant as God rules over the earth. The question for Abram and Sarai is this: will they trust God to be the covenant keeper?

Abram falls face down before God. He recognizes that God is supreme, almighty, all-powerful. This is Abram saying “yes” to God’s invitation into covenant relationship. In response God changes his name to Abraham, which means “father of many”. Later in the story God also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah, reflecting her role as the mother of nations. God defines the covenant this way: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants”. God will be the God of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants forever. The time frame of the covenant again reinforces who is in control and who is the covenant keeper. Like Abraham and Sarah, we are finite, limited, human, flawed. God is eternal and forever and perfect. Abraham and Sarah would seek to walk blamelessly before God, just as we try to do. They would not be perfect, just as we are not perfect. Down through the generations, Abraham and Sarah’s descendants would break the covenant over and over. Again and again, God would keep the covenant of grace, loving us forever. Over and over we end up at the table of grace, being made right again, being restored back into relationship again. This is God’s nature, it is his character. God remains our God. God will always be our God. This is his covenant promise, sealed by his love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, you are forever, you are in total control. You are steadfast and true in keeping the covenant to be our God – to be my God. You love us no matter what. Thank you, God, for loving even me. Amen.


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Transform Us

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verses 2 and 3: “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white”.

Peter, James, and John go up the mountain with Jesus. Jesus is transfigured before them. He is still Jesus but he has been changed, elevated, further revealed. His glory and power shine out from him. To the disciples, this appears or is described as “dazzling white”. Even though their words paint an image that we can form in our mind, we too know that their human words and description fall short of the fullness of this divine moment. Their words provide but a glimpse of what they saw and felt and experienced in that moment.

We too have moments when we are blessed by the very presence of the divine. Once, when I was in high school, I was praying with two friends in the church balcony. We were praying for a friend of mine whose life hung in the balance. In that balcony, God touched me. I felt surrounded, loved, assured that no matter the outcome my friend would be alright. These words relate my experience to you but they do not fully capture what I felt and experienced that night. It too is but a glimpse into someone else’s encounter with God. Just as Peter, James, and John’s moment was transforming for their faith, so too was that balcony moment. What moments have you had that have transformed you?

As we consider that question, we are on the verge of entering into the season of Lent next week. It is a season of introspection and reflection. When and if we are open and honest with God, he will meet us in those places of need or brokenness or hurt as well as in the ordinary moments of life. He will surround us and lift us and remain with us if we are but willing to go up the mountain or through the valley or to simply recognize him in the ordinary of life. May we be willing and may Christ transform us during this holy season.

Prayer: Lord God, you seek to be with us in all of our moments – the highs and lows and the moments in between. Help me to recognize your presence in each moment of my life and draw me deeper into that connection point and into our relationship. Thank you, Lord. 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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Once New Again

Reading: Judges 4: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”

Today’s passage is from the book of Judges. This book covers the time period when there was no king in Israel. One after another a judge rules or leads Israel. In today’s reading Deborah the prophetess is acting as the judge or ruler of Israel. In our opening verses we read, “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”. In today’s passage it is Canaan who rules over Israel. The … can be followed by many different names – Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans… The process of “doing evil” is familiar: the people sin, there is a period of oppression, this leads to crying out to God, and then God restores Israel. This is an often repeated process for Israel.

This is a process that we are also familiar with, especially on a personal level. In our battles with sin, in our attempts to be obedient and faithful, we often have our “how did I get here again?” moments. How did I let pride get in the way of doing right again? How did I allow anger to win again? How did I give in to ___ again? Our weak, imperfect human condition makes us prone to the same cycle or process that we see scattered throughout the Old Testament and continued into the New Testament. The ministry of Jesus did not fix us; it did not remove our human weakness and our tendency towards the things of this world. It did, however, change the process. The “time in the hands of…” is no longer required. The time in oppression, the time in exile, the loss of freedom is no longer needed. On the cross, Jesus made atonement for our sins. With his life Jesus served the consequence. Sometimes there is an earthly consequence that we must suffer through. Our sin can damage a relationship or can violate earthly laws. There are costs to these things. But through the gift of grace and the giving of mercy, we are made new again, our sin is washed away, we are restored back into right relationship with God. In the process we do learn, we do grow from our failures, we do gain strength in the battle again sin. More importantly we learn just as Israel learned: God never gives up. God keeps working in our lives, keeps restoring us, keeps calling us to deeper obedience and to a more faithful walk. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Dear God, thousands and thousands of times I have stumbled and fallen. Even though it is almost beyond counting, your grace is greater. Even though I struggle to forgive just a few slights, your mercy never ends. So great a love is hard to fathom. In utter humility I thank you for loving a sinner like me. You are truly love and grace and mercy lived out. Thank you, God. Amen.