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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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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Faithful

Reading: Hebrews 11: 29-40

Verse 39: “These were all commended for their faith”.

Today we continue with the “Faith Hall of Fame” that we found last week in Hebrews 11. The people, both named and unnamed, are heroes of the faithful. Those we find in today’s reading are like those we read about last week in the first 28 verses of chapter eleven. Although on the list, the people on the list are not perfect examples of faith. Remember, for example, the Hebrews complained about ever leaving Egypt as Pharaoh’s army closed in on them in Exodus 14. And then God parted the sea and they walked through on dry land. Don’t forget about David either, who after living quite the blessed life and becoming king stooped to adultery, abuse of power, and murder.

Those in the Hall of Fame are not perfect. Much like you and me, they are rather imperfect people. Like us, their faith waivers at times. In general they are followers who desire to be faithful that stick close to a faithful God when life really presses in. Yes, Gideon doubted and Barak questioned God. Yes, Samson murdered innocents and Samuel failed miserably as a father. But these and all on the list were like David in one key way: they were people after God’s own heart. It was not in spite of their human weaknesses and failures, but rather because of them, that they pursued a relationship with God. They knew that their extraordinary God was faithful. Each stepped out and stepped up in faith. Because of that, “these were all commended for their faith”.

When I look in the mirror I too see imperfection. As I think about this past week – nevermind over the course of my lifetime – I see failures and sins. I am not without blemish. None of us are. But God is. And God is the one who can take imperfect vessels and can work amazing and awesome results. I can do all things with the one who strengthens me. So too can you. May we walk in faith today.

Prayer: Lord, my name will never be added to this list that I read in Hebrews 11. That is OK! Yet this I ask: use me as you will today. Then do the same tomorrow. And keep on going. Amen.


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Amazing Love

Reading: 2 Samuel 18: 31-33

Verse 33: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! If only I had died instead of you”!

David experiences something no parent ever expects to experience. One of his children dies before he does. No one wants to bury a child. It just seems unnatural. For David, this is the second son he has lost. The first son who died, Ammon, was murdered by Absalom. Ammon had raped his half-sister, Absalom’s sister. David did not punish Ammon for the rape so Absalom took matters into his own hands, avenging his sister’s shame. This act also went unpunished by David. So it was not a total shock that the fiery and arrogant Absalom was leading a rebellion against his father, King David.

Even then David’s first reaction when it comes down to a fight is to try and protect Absalom. David’s army gains a hard-fought victory. It is a costly battle – over 20,000 die that day in the forest of Ephraim. News comes first of the great victory. The messenger is elated to share the news that the Lord has delivered all who rose up against the king. David cares not but only asks about Absalom. The messenger replies, “May the enemies… all be like that young man”, letting David know that Absalom was killed. The Word then says, “The King was shaken”. David went to mourn this personal loss, crying out, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! If only I had died instead of you”! The victory on the battlefield is meaningless to David because Absalom died. Like all parents, David wishes he could trade places with his child.

The love of a parent for a child is on vivid display here. The pure love models the love that God has for each of us. Yet it is pale by comparison. God sent His own Son to die for others. God sent Jesus knowing that Jesus would endure the cross to bring forgiveness of sins and hope for eternal life. God incarnate, God in the flesh, sacrificed Himself for the sinners. That death had to pain God the Father deeply. But the greater love for you and me prevailed. As a parent, this would be so hard to do – especially when He had the power to stop it. The atonement, the sacrifice, had to be made. It is an amazing love revealed in God the Father. Thanks be to God for the amazing love for all of His children, imperfect as we may be. Thanks be to God.


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Cleanse Us, O God

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-9

Verse Two: “Wash away all my iniquities and cleanse me from my sin”.

Sin is all that we do or say or think that separates us from God. Despite our best efforts to follow Jesus and to bring honor and glory to God in all aspects of our lives, at times we fail. We were, in fact, created by God as imperfect creatures to live in a broken and sinful world. Being perfect or being without sin is not possible on our own. We were created this way so that we would come to rely on God.

King David learned the hard way about the sin in his life. While David is known as a man who was after God’s own heart, he, like us, was prone to sin. David even acknowledges, “surely I was sinful at birth”. David also recognizes another key element about sin: we sin against God. Yes, our sin can affect others, but our sin is really between us and God. Even though David dealt with sin in his life, he always sought God’s mercy and forgiveness as he repented of his sin.

Sometimes the sin in our lives is quite obvious and we quickly turn to God to restore our relationship. But sometimes we hold onto our sin, pretending that God cannot really see into that corner of our heart. At other times we are weak and our sin’s pull is stronger than we are at that moment. There are other sins that we always seem to battle. For me these are the sins of self, pride, ego, and gluttony. At times my faith does help me to live victoriously, but these sins are ever at the door of my heart.

In David’s words in Psalm 51 we find some great prayers to lift to God and some great reminders if who God is. We are reminded of God’s mercy and unfailing love. We are reminded of God’s desire to teach us truth. In those moments when we stumble, may we remember David’s plea: “Wash away all my iniquities and cleanse me from my sin”. In those moments, may we claim this prayer as our own. God desires to make us “whiter than snow”. We simply must humble ourselves and come before God with a contrite heart. May we search deeply within and confess our sins today, opening the way for God to heal our heart. May it be so today.


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Share His Love

Reading: Isaiah 40: 25-26

Verse 25: “Lift your eyes to the heavens: who created all these?”

When we look to the stars in heaven we begin to get a glimpse of God’s creativity and power. We can see stars so numerous that we cannot even begin to count them. With the aid of telescopes we have discovered that there are hundreds and hundreds of stars for each one we can see with the naked eye. The sheer number is hard to begin to understand. Our passage tells us that God “calls them each by name”. If God knows each by name and knows if one of them is missing, then God cares for His created order in an extraordinary way.

Then we bring our gaze a little lower, down to the earth. Here too we see the magnificent creative power of God as we consider the vast variety of plants and animals and sea creatures and so on. Each is created for a specific purpose and place in God’s world. Just like the stars, God knows them all. The care with which God created and ordered the world reveals not only power and might but it also reveals a deep love for His creation.

If we lift our gaze to the mirror, we see the crown jewel of God’s creation. You, I, and every person that has lived, is alive, and will ever live are created in God’s image. We are each uniquely and wonderfully made. We each have a spark of the divine in us that ever calls us to our creator God. This connection to God is what allows us see beauty and value and worth in creation and in each other. It is what calls us to care for creation and to love on another.

Our care and love are imperfect. Compared to God’s love and care, ours is limited and sometimes self-serving. Sometimes we love self far more than anything else. But God did not create us to be perfect. He created us to pursue perfection. In this pursuit, our model is Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. Jesus showed us what God’s love looked like lived out. This day, may we delve into Jesus’ love and go forth to share that love with our family, friends, and neighbors. It is a love that can change hearts and can change lives. May we share it well today.


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Love

Reading: Psalm 139: 13-18

Verse 13: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”.

God is a vast God.  God created the world and all living creatures.  God continues to be active and present each day.  God’s love is unending, God’s mercy always overflows, and God’s forgiveness pours forth from the throne unceasingly.  As vast as God is, though, God is also intimately connected to each of us as well.  Verse thirteen speaks of how God has been connected to each of us since our beginning: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”.  God personally formed each of us.  Personally.  God really loves and values each and every one of us as!

In the beginning of time God spoke a word and created.  God set stars among the sky that are so numerous that we cannot count them.  Yet God knows each one by name.  This is amazing power and might.  But is was all done at once.  God spoke and it was.  That’s power.  For you and me and for each of the billions and billions of people who have lived and who are now alive, God knit us together.  We are each formed by hand, so to speak.  We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, true, but we are also individually made.  Each of us is a unique creation of God’s mighty hand.  I think that is more amazing than any part of the creation story.

Even though we are formed by God’s hands, at times we separate ourselves from God.  We choose to sin or we may even deny our relationship with God.  We are imperfect and human.  God is not.  Into our sin, God sends grace and mercy and forgiveness.  God says, “I love you still”.  In those times of separation or denial, God continues to seek us out, to call out to us, to love us.  God could just create another person and hope for better results, but does not.  We are each the most important creation there is.  That’s how big God’s love is.

While I am thankful for this love, I know that it cannot stop there.  It is a love that must be shared with others.  This day, O Lord, may I be your love to another.  May it be so for all of us.  Amen.


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Imperfectly in Perfect

Reading: Psalm 19

Verses 7 and 12: The Law of the Lord is perfect… forgive my hidden faults.

Our Psalm for today begins by recognizing how the natural world shines forth God.  When one looks to the sky at night, one gains a sense of the vastness and power of God.  As the sun moves across the sky, we can sense God’s perfect plan at work.  The earth was placed at exactly the right distance from the sun – much closer or further and we could not have life on our planet.  The sun is described as a bridegroom bringing light and heat to all.  This is much like the Son who brings light and love to all.

In verse seven, the psalmist begins comparing God’s beautiful and perfect creation to God’s Law.  He writes, “the Law of the Lord is perfect”, trustworthy, right, and radiant.  The psslmists says the Law revives the soul, makes wise the simple, gives joy to the heart and light to the eyes.  These ordinances of God are “sure” and “righteous” and are “sweeter than honey”.  Reading all these descriptives the Law is much like the perfection and beauty of nature.  It is a wonderful thing to keep and a great place to be.  Verse eleven summarizes this: “By them is your servant warned, in keeping them there is great reward”.  All who walk daily with the Lord know this is true.

Even though we live in the beauty and wonder of God’s creation and even though we know the law and have Jesus’ example, there are times when we choose to walk outside of God’s law and love.  There are times we sin.  In verse twelve we read, “forgive my hidden faults”.  The next verse seeks protection from “willful sins”.  Within the perfection of creation and beside God’s perfect law reside us humans.  Just as the psalmist does, so too must we recognize our absolute need for God’s grace and forgiveness.  Out of His perfect love God brought us Jesus Christ, so that through His perfect love we could be redeemed.  Each day may we choose to stand upon our Rock, seeking God as we dwell imperfectly in His perfect love.


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Holy

Reading: Leviticus 19: 1-2

Today’s verses contain quite a challenge.  God calls us to be holy.  What does it mean to be ‘holy’?  Does it require us to be loving all the time, to never sin, to always be a servant to others?  Is this a 24-7 thing?  When taken from the ‘why’ part of these verses – “because I, the Lord your God, am holy” – it would appear impossible for us.  Yes, God is holy.  Yes, God is without sin.  Yes, God is love.  It is just who and what God is.  And so God tells us to be holy too.

The call to be holy is akin to a parent saying a child, ‘now be good’, as they head out the door to school or to some event.  Yes, the parent wants their child to be good, but this is not always the case, even though most children head off intending to be good as they leave the house.  This too is our struggle.  Even though one awakens every morning and seeks God’s guidance and direction in the day ahead, at times we falter and sin.  This is a limitation of our humanity.  But the grace of God is greater than our weakness!

John Wesley called our walk of faith the “journey towards perfection”.  That is what we are on.  No, I am not perfect.  No, I am not always holy.  But is that my goal?  Yes!  We are ever called to push on “towards the goal” of attaining life in Christ in heaven.  To do so, to accomplish this task, we are being transformed day by day.  It is a slow but steady process.  The transforming work is done by God alone, but others play a role.

For our part, we must seek God daily and invest in growing closer to God, to being holy.  We read and meditate on the Word, we pray and we worship.  W choose to engage with other Christians for support, encouragement, and accountability.  The gift of the Holy Spirit also plays an important role.  God created each of us and knows each of us intimately.  Therefore, God knows our reality.  Into our limitations, God breathes the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit constantly prays for us, continually works to keep us aligned with God, convicts us when necessary, always working to draw us closer to God, closer to holiness.  Yes, we are imperfect, but thank God for His unending love and patience, for the presence of the Holy Spirit, and for ever drawing us closer and closer to being holy.


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Living Water

Reading: Jeremiah 2: 4-13

Where do you get your sense of worth?  Where is it from that you draw confidence, peace, and contentment?  Where do you turn in time of trial, stress, or temptation?  The answers to these questions will reveal much about your faith and your relationship with God.

Jeremiah is writing to a people who have turned away from God.  The people have strayed from God and have turned to worthless idols.  They have defiled the land with altars to foreign gods.  They have put their trust in “broken cisterns” – in their own power and might.  In this sense they have made themselves gods.

Like the people of Jeremiah’s day, we also turn to idols.  We look to our bank accounts and retirement investments for reassurance that all is well in life.  Instead of building altars to foreign gods, we park shiny new toys in our driveways and garages.  In these we see our own worth.  We see our name on the door of our office with its fancy title and think we are content.  But when a storm rolls in we turn to alcohol or drugs to dull the pain or to TV or the internet to numb the mind.  Too often God is a last resort, a desperate prayer when we have exhausted all other options.

Soon enough the shiny becomes dull, the title just isn’t what it once was, and the ways to cope don’t seem to be working anymore.  We feel lost and stuck at the same time.  All the while the Holy Spirit has been present, trying to turn us outward instead of inward, to look to the only way, truth, and life instead of everywhere else.  Even in our most self-centered moments, God does not give up, does not stop loving us, does not stop reaching out.  It is a live beyond our understanding.

At some point we all come to sense that our peace, contentment, and joy cannot come from the things of this world.  They are all temporary.  At some point we all get to this place.  It is a place of silence, of being alone.  It is a place where all else is stripped away.  It is where we meet God.  Maybe it is ‘again’ for some, maybe it is the first time for others.  It is here, in this place of solitude, that the living water seeps in through all the cracks in our brokenness.  It is here that we begin to find peace, contentment, and joy.  But our cracks remain.  We are imperfect creations.  We will lose our focus and fall back to the things of this world.  We will stray from God and our souls will become dry.  But our God is never done with us.  This living water is always seeking to seep back in, to fill us up.  Always.  It is a love beyond our understanding.

This day and every day, may we enter the silence, draw near to God, and confess our sins.  This day and every day, may we invite God in so that the living water will fill us up.