pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Grounded in Love

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse 2: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”.

Today’s passage centers on Moses sharing the commands that God gave him on Mount Sinai. These commands would form the backbone and would be the beginning of the Law – the commands, statutes, and rules that would govern the life of the Israelites. Moses first shares the introduction: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”. While we have not come out of slavery in the same sense that the Israelites just did, our relationship with Jesus does free us from many things.

The Ten Commandments begin to define the relationship between God and his people as well as the relationships between the people. The first four commands define our relationship with God and the last six define the relationships that we are to live in with one another. All ten are great guides for how to live with God and with each other. Yet they are just a start. The list would grow to 600+ laws and rules by the time Jesus Christ walked the earth. These laws shaped who and what the Israelites were, giving them an identity and a way to live in harmony.

Today we live in a world that also has a code of law that governs how our society rules itself, functions, and it also defines how we are to live with one another. Our civil law, in general, governs our political and societal practices and norms. While some civil laws interact or are influenced by moral or religious concerns, the way we live our day to day lives is still governed largely by our faith. As Christians we seek to live peaceably under the laws of our nation, state, and local community. We engage in the political process too – voting, working to add or amend laws to better society, and, sometimes, by serving. Yet the core of who and what we are still resides in our faith. As we live out our daily lives it is the “rule of life” that we have developed from our faith that truly guides us. For many believers this rule of life is modeled after Jesus’ life. Jesus modeled what living in right relationship with God and with others looked like when lived to the full. For Jesus, a right relationship was always grounded in love. Each of the Ten Commandments was grounded in love.

As you consider your rule of life – the way you act, the way you interact with and treat others, the way your faith is lived out, the way you love God throughout your day… – is it all grounded in love? In the spirit of Lent, consider this question deeply. What in your rule of life needs to change or die to better reflect Christ to the world? What needs to grow to better witness to the faith you profess?

Prayer: Lord, my mind is drawn to search and examine the habits and practices and things in me that define how I live each day. Help me to truly see as you would see, dying to that within that works to separate me from you or others. May the Spirit also work within me to grow those things that help me to better love you and others. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: Psalm 25: 1-10

Verse 9: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way”.

Photo credit: Jan Huber

Today’s Psalm is about the trust and assurance that King David has in God. David begins Psalm 25 by lifting his soul up to God. This is what we do in Lent – this season of reflection and introspection. David asks not to be put to shame by God or by his enemies and perhaps not by himself. David then asks God to “teach me your paths”. David wants to know God’s ways, to be guided by God’s truths. His heart desires a closer walk with God. This desire is a the heart of the Lenten season as well.

In verse nine David writes, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way”. Humility is an essential part of our journey. If we are not humble we can get caught up in the shame that comes with our failures and sins, especially when we internalize the shame. Humility reminds us that we are not perfect and that we do not have to live out our faith on our own. God’s Spirit and the Word and our brothers and sisters in Christ walk alongside us. Humility allows us to learn and grow, both from our mistakes as well as our successes because both are grounded in the goodness and steadfastness of God.

Just as life was for King David, our Lenten journey will not be one steady ascent to the pinnacle of Easter Sunday. While we hope to continue growing closer and closer and to be more and more like Jesus during these forty days, we will have setbacks and pauses. We are limited and imperfect. In verse ten we read, “All of the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful”. All. Each day of our Lenten journey may we keep these truths in mind, allowing them to guide and empower our journey together with God and with one another. May it always be so.

Prayer: Lord God, as I lift up my soul to you, refine it as you may. Teach me your ways so that I may faithfully walk the path to the cross. When I stumble, as I know I will, lift me up and set me back upon your path. Amen.


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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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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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Walk in the Light of Christ

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verse 14: “Wake up, o sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”.

As we come to the fourth Sunday in Lent we have been on a journey since Ash Wednesday. Over the course of these 21 days we have sought to look within, to identify that which hinders our relationships with God and with one another. Today’s passage speaks of light and darkness. These elements have always been a part of who we are and of our journey of faith.

Before we became a follower of Jesus Christ we did live in the darkness. Once we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, his light shown in our lives, bit by bit exposing our darkness. His light continues to expose our selfish and sinful desires and deeds. Still, every once in a while, we try and turn our backs and seek to please self instead of God. We know well what Paul speaks of when he mentions being shameful and disobedient.

Over the course of our Lenten journey we have been reminded again and again of what is pleasing and holy and true. As our desire to pursue these things – the things of God – increases, our worldly desires slowly die. In this process the light shines brighter and brighter and it becomes less tempting to turn our backs against God. Being in the light brings us joy. It is a journey to get to that place.

Paul ends today’s passage, probably quoting from Isaiah, with these words: “Wake up, o sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”. May we ever walk in the light of Christ, fully aware of our sinful nature that leads to death. May we ever turn to Christ, allowing his light to lead and guide us.

Prayer: Father God, when I do slip or begin to wander, send the light of Jesus Christ blazing into my heart and mind. Shine your light into my life, drawing me back into your love. Amen.


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The Gift

Reading: Romans 5: 12-19

Verse 16: “The judgment followed one one and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification”.

At times I have known people who take the time to be present. After an unexpected loss many years ago my old youth pastor was that person for me. We spent hours together as I worked out my grief. To me it felt like he would’ve sat and listened and talked forever. He made me feel like I was all that there was in the world to him. God seemed to reside in his very being. Have you ever been in the presence of someone like that?

The process that we are invited to walk through in Lent leads us to become more of who God created us to be. Jesus was one who focused right in on whoever was before him and they became all that mattered. In Lent we are called to look within and to search out those parts of ourselves that are selfish and that are focused on the things of this world. These parts of each of us prevent us from being able to truly focus on the other. When we seek to rid ourselves of these things we become more like Jesus and then we will begin to see the other.

In the garden, Adam turned and focused on self. In a moment he stepped outside of a right relationship with God. Sin became part of humanity’s struggle. In verse sixteen we read, “The judgment followed one one and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification”. God did not leave us dead in our sins. The gift of Jesus Christ was given to us so that sin and death would not be the end. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, he who gifts us the victory.

Prayer: Father God, you are so, so good to me. I deserve much less but you are so much more. Thank you for your grace, your love, your mercy, your forgiveness – all to make me new again. I love you Lord! Amen.


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Call of Faith

Reading: Genesis 2:15-17 through 3:1-7

Verse 6: “the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye… took some and ate it”.

As we prepare to enter into the season of Lent, we face a decision. Will this just be another six weeks that we go to church on Sundays or will it be a season, a time to really wrestle with our faith? Will these forty days be about preparing our soul to meet Jesus at the empty tomb on Easter morning? Will Lent be about becoming fully ready to die to self as Jesus did on the cross or will self remain on the throne of our hearts?

Ever since the first people walked the earth there has been a battle waged in our hearts. It is a battle between doing God’s will versus allowing our own will to make the decisions and choices. To me the garden scene is like the Last Supper scene. Someone was going to betray Jesus. It did not really matter who. In the garden someone was going to eat from the forbidden tree. In both cases, evil found a way to winnow in and create separation between a person and God. Isn’t that the same way sin works in our lives?

The fruit just hung there. It looked good and had some benefits. A piece was taken and eaten. Eyes that had been innocent now saw themselves and the world around them differently. Selfishness had been elevated over the relationship with God. Humanity’s will had been chosen over God’s will. This is a choice we wrestle with over and over every single day. Our sense of self is engrained in us from an early age. The call of faith to walk this life as a humble servant is constantly at odds with this sense of self.

The journey of Lent is about the lessening the self-will and the increasing of God’s will. It is about looking deep within our souls and seeing that which separates us from God and doing God’s will. What we each see will be vast and varied. Some things will die relatively easily and others will require great effort. May we each resolve to admit that we are fallen and broken and may we seek God’s love and mercy so that we can be made into new creations.

Prayer: Lord God, as I enter the season of repentance and introspection, give me the courage to look deep and grant me the strength to purge those things that separate me from you or that limit my walk with you. Take me and make me fully thine. Amen.


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Head Over Heels

Reading: Psalm 63: 1-5

Verse 1: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”.

In our Psalm today, David is in the desert and he is seeking God. He offers a prayer to God that gives thanks for God’s power and glory and love. In the desert, in “a dry and weary land”, David’s soul longs for God. In the opening verse we read, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”. David earnestly seeks God. This is not a casual search for God. It is a search filled with passion and a sense of commitment, maybe even with a little urgency added in.

Yesterday at noon I gathered around the table with the usual crew that makes up the noon Bible study. Earlier in the morning some men of the church gathered to work through our church’s Lenten study. This afternoon I’ll gather with the book club as we discuss our chapters for the book that we have been reading about prayer. Tonight I will gather with about 8 high school boys to talk about being a man of God. Then after that I’ll gather with a different group of men to work through our Lenten study. The people that make up these groups ranges from teenagers through those well into retirement. There are men and women, some single, some married, some divorced, some widowed. One of the beautiful things they have in common is the very thing that David writes about today: a thirst for God, a longing for God.

The teen boys are just beginning their journeys of faith and are just getting to know God. Many of the people I gather with have been walking with God longer than I have been alive. I often have said to the youth I work with that there is nothing much more beautiful to me than the 90-year-old still showing up for Bible study each week. This image reflects what all of our journeys of faith should look like.

When we are pursuing God, our thirst and longing for God is never quite satisfied. We study and learn more and more about God. We grasp a new truth and deepen our faith. But along the way we also see new areas of darkness in that corner of our life and we discover that we still have some work to do. Along the way we also come to new questions and to new places of understanding that call us on to more prayer, seeking, and study. Being in love with God draws us to want to know God more and more. As we continue to thirst and long for God, we find that our pursuit leads us to fall head over heels in love with God. When we seek God, we will find God, deepening our relationship with God. May it ever be so.

Prayer: God, thank you for the parts of yourself that you have revealed to me. What I have come to know draws me to want to know even more. Keep me ever hungry, ever seeking. Keep me hungry and thirsty for you, O God. May I never be satisfied but always want more of you. Always. Amen.


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An Honest Look

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.

A new covenant. A new promise. Hope. Opportunity. How we sometimes long for a fresh or new start. For the Israelites long in captivity in Babylon this word from Jeremiah had to bring great hope. Suddenly there was possibility and hope ahead again. They must have certainly felt like the old covenant was a thing of the past. They were living without a temple and without the systems that had connected them to God. Oddly enough they saw change as a good thing. They did not simply want a return to the way things were. Where they were spiritually and relationally was broken and needed changed. They were full of joy to hear, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.

Today we can find ourselves here too. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere. For example, one day we find out that our job has been eliminated or that our spouse is asking for divorce. These types of disruptions are forced upon us and we have no choice but to adapt. But sometimes it is a slow creep instead. This happens in life sometimes. We look up and suddenly realize where we’ve gotten to and know in an instant that something must change. Sometimes this can happen in our institutions as well. Our church that used to have hundreds in worship and dozens in Sunday school suddenly seems a bit empty and without much life. At this point, whether personally or institutionally, we can look for and seek for God to do a new thing or we can continue the slow fade. Sometimes this is the easier choice.

We are still in Lent, so I challenge you to look within – to both yourself and to your church. Do you see growth and movement forward or do you see plateau or regression, complacency or death? These are hard questions to consider. Take an honest look within and go to God accordingly.