pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Pure Heart

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-17

Verse 10: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Photo credit: Adrien Olichon

In Psalm 51 the psalmist begins by asking for God’s mercy to wash away their sins. The psalmist admits that “my sin is ever before me”. The author recognizes that his sin is against God and God alone. God has a right to judge him. We can all relate to what the writer of this Psalm is expressing and feeling. We’ve all been there.

The commonly accepted context for this Psalm is the aftermath of David’s affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. There was certainly a need for God’s grace and forgiveness at this point in David’s life. Although most of our sins are not this egregious, all sin separates us from God and damages our relationship with God and others. God’s mercy and forgiveness are universal needs.

In verse seven David begins to ask for God’s help in restoring the relationship that David broke. He cannot do this on his own. Here he asks God to “cleanse me with hyssop” and then, in verse nine, to “blot out all my iniquity”. These ideas, these phrases, resonate with the sacrament of holy communion. Once forgiven, once cleansed, David can ask God to “create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”. In New Testament terms, the old is gone and the new has come. The old sinful self is washed away, replaced by a new self fully turned toward God. As a new creation in God, David desires to feel again the joy of salvation and to have a willing spirit within – one totally obedient to God.

This Psalm also resonates with our Ash Wednesday practices. Many Christians will seek to be restored and to dedicate themselves to a more holy and devout walk with the Lord as we begin our Lenten journey. The imposition of ashes reminds us of our finite nature and draws us to reflect upon our journey with Christ. It calls us to critically evaluate the condition of our souls. It draws us towards living with a more pure heart.

Our reading for today ends with these words: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”. As we prepare to enter Lent may we find a new path to walk with Jesus, a path guided by just such a heart. With a pure heart we will be pleasing in his sight. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me to that place of contrition, to the place of confession and repentance; show me the path to a closer walk, reveal the things I need to leave along the side of the path. Create in me a pure heart with a desire to be yours alone. Break my heart for what breaks yours, O God. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 50: 3-6

Verse 3: “Our God will come and will not be silent”.

Photo credit: Bill Oxford

The reality of God is on full display in these verses from Psalm 50. While we prefer to avoid this truth about God, in fact he will one day judge us all. Whether we stand or kneel before him all by ourselves or whether we come to the throne of judgment following the rapture or the final days, we will all find ourselves in the place of judgment. The psalmist opens with “Our God will come and will not be silent”. The creator of this world and all that is in it has the right to determine our worthiness to enter his perfect eternity. God will not be silent on that day.

Continuing into verse four the psalmist declares that God will indeed “judge his people”. As the fire devours some, God will bring before him the “consecrated ones” – those who chose to enter the covenant to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Ultimately the comparison will be made with Jesus, the one who came and showed us what it means, what it looks like to love God and neighbor with all that we are. We have no better example. While God does not expect us to be perfect, to never sin, to always get it just right, God does expect us to strive to be more like Christ, to resist sin, and to ever answer and follow the call of the Holy Spirit. To use a John Wesley term, we are ever “going on to perfection”. Day by day we are to seek to grow in our love of God and in our love of neighbor, coming closer and closer to the perfection that we find in Jesus Christ so that one day we may be perfected.

The day and hour remain unknown. One day the righteous one will come, God himself as judge. As we consider the condition of our soul and as we ponder our daily walk with Jesus, where will we be judged worthy? Where are we still falling short? Day by day may we honor the covenant more and more, ever bringing increasing glory to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

Prayer: Lord God, walking day by day with you is such a joy. Yet some days I fail to love you completely. Other days I fail to love my neighbor as Jesus would have loved them. Each day become more of me so that I may reflect more of you to the world. Grow in me so that I may grow in you. Amen.


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“L” is for…

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-40

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

In today’s passage Jesus sounds a bit like an Old Testament prophet. His words and what I imagine his tone to be evoke visions of Ezekiel or Isaiah. Jesus is once again speaking of heaven and hell. Passages like this naturally bring to our mind the question: am I in or am I out? Reading this passage I’ve often fallen into these ways of thinking. In my rule-following mind it was and sometimes still is hard not to feel some condemnation when I read this passage.

Jesus is clear in the overall message today. There is a right or faithful way to live with one another. Therefore, there is also a wrong way. The right way is to care for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. The wrong way is to ignore them, to not care for them. In verse forty we read, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. In verse 45 we read the result of failing to care for such as these: “you did not do for me”.

Reading this passage we can tend to think: Am I a sheep or am I a goat? The judge living inside of us can easily start to scroll through our lives, weighing the evidence for and against. The ‘in or out?’ question can become a balance scale of sorts. But then I stop and ask: does this align with the Jesus we see in the Gospels? Can you really see Jesus judging you this way when you one day stand before him? This is not the Jesus revealed to me in the New Testament or along my faith journey.

Then what is the point of the teaching? We cannot simply toss it or skip by it because it makes us uncomfortable or because it causes us to wrestle with our faith and how we live it out. In a way this was the underlying point of all of Jesus’ teachings. These words were spoken by the one that always calls us deeper into relationship, deeper into loving God and one another. So what if this teaching is about a way to live, about a rule of life? Jesus was one who sought to connect to the least, the lost, the last, the lonely. What drove him to do so was another “L”: love. Yes, the ideal is to always care for others, in whatever form that may be.

I struggle less with this parable than I used to. Now I see it as the model that Jesus set. I still fail at times. I don’t always feed the hungry… I do not always visit the lonely… But I do strive to love each to the best of my ability and capacity – to the best of my faith. When I fail, the Holy Spirit always goes to work within me, leading and prompting me to love deeper the next time God presents an opportunity. I am a work in progress. I’d guess you are too. May the shepherd continue to lead you and me.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for a heart that yearns to love more each day. Guide and lead my heart to be more and more like yours. Amen.


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Like a Mighty River

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

In today’s reading Ezekiel turns his focus to those who are leading, to those who are in charge. The Babylonians were powerful. They exerted their might and took many Israelites into captivity. In exile, the Israelites lived in a society that favored the privileged and wealthy, that allowed greed to exploit the weak, that turned a blind eye to injustice. Those who were wealthy, greedy, unjust are the “fat sheep” that Ezekiel refers to. As one considers our nation today, Ezekiel could very well be writing in 2020.

The ways of greed and inequity and oppression are not the ways that God intends for us to live. God therefore pledges to judge between the fat and lean sheep. God sees how the wealthy and powerful “shove with flank and shoulder”, forcing their agendas, manipulating the weaker, the less powerful. God will intervene, God will put an end to the sins being committed against his children. In verse 22 we read, “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

Plunder is an interesting choice of words. It maybe feels like an old term, an outdated term. Yet it is very relevant today. A man in our community invested many years earning an advanced degree in college. He is a skilled professional in the medical field. The major corporation that he works for unilaterally cut all people in his profession to 30 hours a week. He, like his colleagues, now has no benefits. This corporation has plundered these people.

God promises to save his flock, to judge between the sheep. There is a promise to end greed, oppression, and injustice. To those living in exile, to those living in unjust systems today, these words speak hope. To the fat sheep, these words should be a warning, a call towards self-reflection. But only the sheep with ears to hear will be changed.

Just as God sent Ezekiel to the exiles in Babylon, we read that God will send David to the Israelites who are surrounded by enemies, who live daily under threat of assault. In time God will come in the flesh, bringing hope and salvation to the people oppressed by the Romans and their own religious leaders. Jesus charged his followers to do as he did: feed the hungry, tend to the sick and lonely and imprisoned, clothe the naked, unbind the captives, bring sight to the blind. It is no wonder many Jews thought Jesus the second coming of Ezekiel.

As we seek to do these things, to follow the example of Christ, we do so with the realization that they run counter to our culture, against the ways of greed and power, in defiance of the oppression and injustice that is too prevalent in our nation. May the Lord our God empower us as we seek to be light and love, peace and compassion, mercy and justice to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, give me feet to walk the narrow road, the hard path. Give me courage to stand for those who are weak, lean, powerful, voiceless. May your justice roll down like a mighty river. Amen.


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Leaders and Mentors

Reading: Judges 4: 4-5

Verse 4: “Deborah, a prophetess… was leading Israel at that time”.

Deborah was a woman who led the nation of Israel for a period of time. Under her leadership and guidance, the people were freed from the rule of foreign kings and enjoyed peace for forty years. Deborah was the leader or judge because of her connection to God. As a prophet Deborah heard the word of God and used God’s direction to lead the people, to settle disputes, to guide military leaders. She relied on God to show her how to lead and to have the words to speak. The people looked up to Deborah and saw her as their leader because God’s connection to her was clearly evident.

As I think back over my life of faith, I can identify people who were Deborahs to me. In times of uncertainty their words guided me and helped me through. In times of suffering or trial, their words brought me comfort and strength. In times of difficult decisions, their words helped discern the correct path. I sought these men and women out because I saw God’s presence in their lives and because they had walked the path I was walking. As I have turned to more mature Christians, God has used their willingness to help me along on my spiritual journey. Like Deborah, they have freely given of themselves, patiently leading and mentoring me in the ways of God. I am grateful for their love and care, for their investment in me as a fellow believer.

As we each continue on our journeys of faith, we too may be called upon to be a Deborah. It might be for our church, for our community, for a family member, for a friend… As we grow in our relationship with God, his presence becomes more and more evident in our lives. When we are called upon as leaders and/or mentors, may we step forward as humble servants, leading and guiding as the Lord our God directs us.

Prayer: Lord God, on my journey of faith, help me to discern when to lead and what to seek the guidance and direction of others. Speak to me by the power of the Holy Spirit, allowing me to live in a way that is pleasing and glorifying to you. Keep me humble, turning to wiser and more mature Christians when other voices are needed. Continue to lead and guide me, O Lord. Amen.


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Love God, Love Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verses 37 and 39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and love your neighbor as yourself”.

The Pharisees loved the law. It was a tool to maintain their position and their appearance of goodness. With the law they could judge and shame and control others. The law could be used to define who had value and worth and standing. Jesus chose love. That is the key word in the two great commandments. Boiled down to their simplest form, Jesus said, “Love God, love neighbor”. The highest form of love welcomes the other, serves all, extends mercy and grace and forgiveness without cost, and is generous with all one has and is. And, in the end, it is not the law that saves us, it is love that saves.

Love saves us because it is greater than our sin. Love saves us because it is stronger than the power of death. Love washes us clean when we stumble and give in to the lures of the world and to the pleasures of the flesh. Love makes us new again over and over, allowing us to continue to be in right relationship with the Lord our God. The love that grows within also extends outward, leading us to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness not only to others but to ourselves as well. Love leads us to see others as valued, as worthy, as beloved children of God. Love leads us to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned and the lonely, to provide for the orphan and widow and stranger. Love calls us to die to self again and again, surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, the one who modeled what it is to fully love God and neighbor. Each day may we seek to share Christ’s love with others as we bring love into the world.

Prayer: Lord of love, deepen my relationship with you each day, empowering me to be love lived out. Capture my whole heart and open it to all I meet. In these encounters, may others see you. Amen.


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The Capability to Love

Reading: Romans 14: 1-12

Verse 10: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Today’s text is an interesting one for this season in America and for this day in particular. Just before praise team practice last night, one observed that it felt like America was nearing its breaking point. It feels like the levels of anger and fear, of doubt and distrust are very high. It feels like there are giant gulfs between our political parties and between different segments of society. This is a time of great pain and intense hurting for many people.

Nineteen years ago our nation was brought to a collective space of pain and hurting. We got there, in a general sense, because of what Paul is speaking about in today’s passage. One small group of people disapproved of another group of people and judged them. The sentence led to death for hundreds and hundreds and to grief and sufferings for many more. Today in our nation we seem to stand on opposite sides of the gulfs that divide us and we attack one another, coming up just short of setting off actual bombs. We may feel that our disputes are about things much greater than eating meat or which day we worship on, but almost all of our issues and disagreements barely rise above this level.

After reminding us that “none of us lives to himself alone”, Paul speaks to us as Christians. In verse eight he writes, “we belong to the Lord”. Do we, as citizens of both heaven and earth, reflect that belonging? Or do we step outside of it from time to time to hurl word bombs at one another, acting as if God were blind and deaf? I am afraid too often we do. Paul then provides two questions that we must weigh heavily in this time: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Do you remember what September 12, 13, 14… were like nineteen years ago? It did not matter if you were black, white, yellow, brown… It did not matter if you were upper class, middle class, lower class or somewhere in between. It did not matter if you were RC, UMC, ELCA, or any other denominational stripe. People of all categories and labels and identifiers came together to help one another, to care for one another, to comfort one another, to pray for one another. How far we have traveled from those days.

Each and every one of us still has the capability to love within us. As we each belong to the Lord, love is simply who we are. This day and every day may we love well, bringing healing to our land and to our brothers and sisters. May it really be so.

Prayer: Lord God, reign in my heart. Begin there, O God, because it has to start deep down in each of our hearts. Draw all of your children to that same place, Lord, because only together do we rise above the earthly to begin to build the heavenly here on earth. Lead a revival of love, O God, and restore our land. Amen.


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The Capability to Love

Reading: Romans 14: 1-12

Verse 10: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Today’s text is an interesting one for this season in America and for this day in particular. Just before praise team practice last night, one observed that it felt like America was nearing its breaking point. It feels like the levels of anger and fear, of doubt and distrust are very high. It feels like there are giant gulfs between our political parties and between different segments of society. This is a time of great pain and intense hurting for many people.

Nineteen years ago our nation was brought to a collective space of pain and hurting. We got there, in a general sense, because of what Paul is speaking about in today’s passage. One small group of people disapproved of another group of people and judged them. The sentence led to death for hundreds and hundreds and to grief and sufferings for many more. Today in our nation we seem to stand on opposite sides of the gulfs that divide us and we attack one another, coming up just short of setting off actual bombs. We may feel that our disputes are about things much greater than eating meat or which day we worship on, but almost all of our issues and disagreements barely rise above this level.

After reminding us that “none of us lives to himself alone”, Paul speaks to us as Christians. In verse eight he writes, “we belong to the Lord”. Do we, as citizens of both heaven and earth, reflect that belonging? Or do we step outside of it from time to time to hurl word bombs at one another, acting as if God were blind and deaf? I am afraid too often we do. Paul then provides two questions that we must weigh heavily in this time: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Do you remember what September 12, 13, 14… were like nineteen years ago? It did not matter if you were black, white, yellow, brown… It did not matter if you were upper class, middle class, lower class or somewhere in between. It did not matter if you were RC, UMC, ELCA, or any other denominational stripe. People of all categories and labels and identifiers came together to help one another, to care for one another, to comfort one another, to pray for one another. How far we have traveled from those days.

Each and every one of us still has the capability to love within us. As we each belong to the Lord, love is simply who we are. This day and every day may we love well, bringing healing to our land and to our brothers and sisters. May it really be so.

Prayer: Lord God, reign in my heart. Begin there, O God, because it has to start deep down in each of our hearts. Draw all of your children to that same place, Lord, because only together do we rise above the earthly to begin to build the heavenly here on earth. Lead a revival of love, O God, and restore our land. Amen.


Leave a comment

The Capability to Love

Reading: Romans 14: 1-12

Verse 10: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Today’s text is an interesting one for this season in America and for this day in particular. Just before praise team practice last night, one observed that it felt like America was nearing its breaking point. It feels like the levels of anger and fear, of doubt and distrust are very high. It feels like there are giant gulfs between our political parties and between different segments of society. This is a time of great pain and intense hurting for many people.

Nineteen years ago our nation was brought to a collective space of pain and hurting. We got there, in a general sense, because of what Paul is speaking about in today’s passage. One small group of people disapproved of another group of people and judged them. The sentence led to death for hundreds and hundreds and to grief and sufferings for many more. Today in our nation we seem to stand on opposite sides of the gulfs that divide us and we attack one another, coming up just short of setting off actual bombs. We may feel that our disputes are about things much greater than eating meat or which day we worship on, but almost all of our issues and disagreements barely rise above this level.

After reminding us that “none of us lives to himself alone”, Paul speaks to us as Christians. In verse eight he writes, “we belong to the Lord”. Do we, as citizens of both heaven and earth, reflect that belonging? Or do we step outside of it from time to time to hurl word bombs at one another, acting as if God were blind and deaf? I am afraid too often we do. Paul then provides two questions that we must weigh heavily in this time: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Do you remember what September 12, 13, 14… were like nineteen years ago? It did not matter if you were black, white, yellow, brown… It did not matter if you were upper class, middle class, lower class or somewhere in between. It did not matter if you were RC, UMC, ELCA, or any other denominational stripe. People of all categories and labels and identifiers came together to help one another, to care for one another, to comfort one another, to pray for one another. How far we have traveled from those days.

Each and every one of us still has the capability to love within us. As we each belong to the Lord, love is simply who we are. This day and every day may we love well, bringing healing to our land and to our brothers and sisters. May it really be so.

Prayer: Lord God, reign in my heart. Begin there, O God, because it has to start deep down in each of our hearts. Draw all of your children to that same place, Lord, because only together do we rise above the earthly to begin to build the heavenly here on earth. Lead a revival of love, O God, and restore our land. Amen.


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Walk in the Light

Reading: Isaiah 2: 1-5

Verse 5: “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord”.

Our passage begins with the words “in the last days”. Isaiah is looking beyond his current time and place. In those last days much will occur. The temple mount will be raised up and all nations will stream to it. The nations will come to worship the Lord. The Lord will teach “his ways” so that the people can walk “his paths”. The law will go out and the Lord will judge. There will be no war; swords and spears will become ploughs and pruning hooks. Oh what a day it will be! Israel longs for this day.

Do not miss the shift in verse five. All of the above are “will” things. It will be raised… he will teach… he will judge. Verse five is in the present tense: “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord”. Yes, those “will” images are wonderful things. But they are future things. They remain future things even in our age. Isaiah is speaking in verse five of the now. He is saying that today is the day to walk in the light of the Lord. Isaiah is calling them to faithful living in the present time. It is a difficult time in Isaiah’s nation of Israel. They have strayed from God and have been found wanting. Judgment is coming. Yet even in the midst of all that Isaiah calls the people to walk in the light of the Lord.

Is this not where we find ourselves as well? We have allowed our nation to stray from the Lord. We have been quiet bystanders to the slide down the slope. We have been party to our churches turning inwards. We have turned inward. Our light has been shuttered. Circling the wagons has become more important than flinging wide the doors so that all can come to the light of the Lord. The circle has been drawn in tighter. Within, our words have become swords and spears. Oh how the Lord of light must weep. Yes, this is much light Isaiah’s God who wept over Israel.

Thus, the call remains the same: “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord”. May we each allow the light to shine in the darkness, driving away any and all selfish love. In its place may the pure and selfless love of God flood in. May we be a light to all peoples. May God’s love reign!

Prayer: Lord God, make my love into your love. Help me to see as you see, to feel as you feel. Strip away the anger and malice, strip away the pride. Give me a clean heart, a heart to love all people, all of your children. Amen.