pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Darkness

Readings: John 18:25-28 and Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Verse 5: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.”

In the story line of Holy Week, by Friday morning Jesus has been arrested in the garden, has been found guilty by the religious leaders, and is brought to Pilate in the early morning. During the late night hours Jesus remained at Caiaphas’ house. Tradition has it that these hours were spent in a dungeon. It was a time alone, spent in a dark place. Perhaps this is what we read of in Isaiah 53:3 – “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” During this time, Peter will deny even knowing Jesus. Three times.

In spite of the rejection, the denial, the persecution, Jesus still chooses the cross. Isaiah 53:4 says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” The weight of the cross itself isn’t the only thing Jesus carried to Golgatha. As the early morning progresses, Jesus is sentenced to death by crucifixion. His body will be nailed to the cross in the third hour – about 9 am. In Isaiah 53:5 we read, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” The nails pierced his skin, the weight of the sin of the world lay heavy upon the innocent one. Verse 10 reminds us, “the Lord makes his life a guilt offering.” Verse 12: “he bore the sins of many.”

At noon darkness falls over the land. As our iniquities sit upon Jesus, all of creation mourns. Pouring out his life for us, Jesus breathes his last at about 3 pm. The body will hastily be placed in Joseph’s tomb – the Sabbath begins at sunset. All feels lost. All is wrapped in sorrow and grief. The incarnate one is dead.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for walking this difficult path for me and for all of humanity. You are familiar with our iniquities and suffering. Yet you chose love. Thank you. Amen.


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To Linger

Reading: John 12:7-8

Verse 8: “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Photo credit: Aron Visuals

In the first half of this week’s passage from John 12 Mary anoints Jesus’ feet and Judas protests this “wasteful” act. The beautiful gift that Mary offered filled the room with fragrance. The sweet aroma would be carried with Mary for many days after she wiped his feet with her hair. I think this was intentional. That fragrance will linger with her; it will still be present five days later as she stands with others at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

Jesus defends her, saying, “Leave her alone.” He explains that she was helping to prepare his body for burial. Clearly Mary understands more than most of the disciples at this point. Jesus talk of rejection and death and rising after three days has spoken into Mary’s heart. Then Jesus goes on to say, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” Jesus is not telling the disciples or us to quit caring for the poor – in any way. He is saying that in this moment, Mary has once again chosen the better thing. (See Luke 10:38-43.) Yes, it is good and would be right to use the money to care for the poor. But in this moment, at this time, this act of faith and love is more important.

We can face similar decisions at times. We too can face some critique or questioning. One quick, small example. I stand outside and welcome people to church, often holding the door open as we shake hands. A woman sometimes arrives just as church is about to begin. With her oxygen tank and walker, it takes a bit of time to get into the church. Sometimes she has food or other items for the food pantry too. My watch buzzed me two minutes before church starts. We run a one minute countdown timer on the screens in the sanctuary. Some days I linger outside. When I enter the sanctuary on these days, some look at the clock or their watches. I’m good with that.

Lord God, remind me always of the one. Remind me again and again that things like our human construct of time aren’t always ultra important. Do the same with all else that can hamper our relationship with you and with one another. Amen.


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See? Recognize? Heed?

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 1: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.”

Photo credit: Chase Murphy

The prophet Malachi was sent by God to the Levites, the priests. They were offering imperfect animals on the altar – the blind, the diseased, the crippled. The priests had turned from God’s ways and had “caused many to stumble.” Malachi admonishes them and tells of a coming day of judgment. As I consider God’s case against the priests, I wonder what words Malachi would relay to us today. Is our offering similar to theirs? Do we give to God a portion dedicated up front or do we wait to the end of the month to see what we have left that we can spare? Do we always live an upright and holy life or do we fall into gossip circles and other sins that diminish our witness?

Beginning in chapter three God lays out the plan for change. The detestable and unfaithful behaviors will come to an end. In verse one the Lord Almighty says, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” About 400 years later the messenger will come. John the Baptist will offer a baptism of repentance, calling the people of God to a holy and faithful life. Although it is more comfortable and much easier to stay where we are at, to pretend that our faith is okay, to act as if we have no sin in our lives, the messenger draws crowds. John spoke to the hole in people’s hearts that only God can fill. Many came to confess and repent, to be baptized and cleansed. The people saw their imperfections and longed for a deeper, better, stronger faith. They saw their need and responded to the one preparing the way for the Lord.

Do we see our need for God? Do we recognize our imperfections? Are we willing to heed the words of the prophet? Will we humbly approach the Lord of mercy and grace, seeking to be made new again?

Prayer: Lord God, give me an honest walk of faith. Open my eyes to my areas of darkness and sin. Shine your light on my failures and imperfections. Pour out your grace and mercy, drawing me closer to you. Amen.


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Giving Thanks

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Verses 18 and 19: “Be filled with the Spirit… make music in your hearts to the Lord”.

Photo credit: Ben White

Continuing in Ephesians 5 today we get the practical or ‘how to’ of living out our faith. Paul’s words today remain in the foolish and wise realm. In verse eighteen comes the general warning: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery”. Wine was the issue in Paul’s day. Today we could include beer and alcohol as well as a wide variety of drugs. To the list of unwise or worldly living we could also add wealth, popularity, power, and even food for a few of us. There are many, many things that we, like the world, can pursue and consume that lead to sin, debauchery, gluttony, and other evils.

Instead Paul encourages us to “be filled with the Spirit”. Paul invites us to pursue and consume the things of faith, to be so full of God that we “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. Filled with the Spirit, God’s words would be our words. Speaking God’s love and care and compassion and grace and forgiveness and comfort and equality and unity – we would stand out from the common language of the world: hatred, isolation, fear, criticism, division. Our words would be a fragrant offering to the vile and evil talk that too often dominates the secular world. Speaking words that draw others in, that make welcoming space for the other, that give voice to the weak and powerless – what a counter-cultural way of living!

There is also a personal side to today’s passage. When we choose to fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit, we will naturally “make music in your hearts to the Lord”. Our very lives will also be a pleasing and holy offering to the Lord. Our hearts will in turn be filled with love and joy and peace and hope and contentment. We will see and be in the world in a whole different way. We will see the world, the other, and our very self as gifts from God – gifts that we will always give thanks to God for. Giving such thanks, we will love as Jesus first loved us. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your Holy Spirit! Fill me to overflowing so that all I say and do reflects your love being poured out for others. Use me today to reflect Christ to the world. Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 14: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Chapter 8 in Romans is all about the new life we find in Christ. Paul begins the chapter by speaking of the freedom from sin found in and through Christ. He talks of the Holy Spirit’s power that leads us to live not in sin but in righteousness. As our verses begin today, Paul writes of our “obligation” to live according to the way of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the word ‘obligation’ rubs us the wrong way. It can imply something we have to do not something we want to do. Paul is connecting back to what he shared in verse three – that God sent Jesus as a “sin offering” for those who were powerless against sin – for us! To live for the desires and pleasures of the flesh would fly in the face of Jesus’ offering for us. So Paul urges us, obliges us, to live by the Spirit of God.

In verse fourteen Paul writes, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. When we live by or allow the Holy Spirit within to guide us, then we are living as a child of God. This is a great place to be. Yet many people choose to live as a child of the world. The lures of money and power and status, as well as the pleasures of the flesh, are powerful draws to our human, worldly selves. It can feel “good” to accumulate and enjoy these things. Yet when we live unto ourselves we focus only inward, lessening even our most important relationships. Our sense of belonging and our sense of worth become connected to how we “feel”, which is connected to superficial, shallow, temporary things. It is a fragile place to live.

When we choose to live by the Spirit, by the way of Christ, we find a different source of joy, contentment, peace. Our relationships are not guided by self but by the love of Jesus Christ welling up inside of us. Self fades away as love of God and neighbor becomes our purpose, our source of meaning and worth. Living as a child of God, as a part of the body of Christ, we find eternal belonging. Knowing we are loved forever by our Lord, we can go forth into the world to live out that love, drawing others toward their place in the family of God. May it be so for you and for me today.

Prayer: Lord God, your family is beautiful, generous, loving. Thank you for making space for me in your family. When I am not these things, lift up the voice of the Holy Spirit within me, drawing me back into the depth of your love. Amen.


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Abundance

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 17: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”.

Today’s passage is one of abundance. It begins with an abundance of grief. Hearing that John the Baptist has been murdered by Herod, Jesus is overwhelmed with an abundance of grief. He withdraws by boat to a solitary place, seeking to grieve and pray. But an abundant crowd comes out from all the nearby towns and follows Jesus to the place that he comes ashore. Instead of sticking to the plans and mourning the death of his cousin, Jesus pours out abundant compassion and healing mercies. As Jesus works his way through the crowd of at least 10,000 the day turns to evening. The disciples, aware of the hour and the remoteness of this place, ask Jesus to send the crowds away to find food in the nearby villages.

In a demonstration of abundant love Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowd “something to eat”. They have a meager offering to give: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”. They see scarcity. Jesus sees abundance. In abundant love, Jesus shares the reality with the disciples. All they think they have to offer is a child’s meal. Jesus has already worked through the huge crowd, giving them what they came for: healing. And now, in abundant love for the people, he is about to go beyond even what they came for. Jesus gathers the meager meal, instructs the crowd to be seated, blesses the food, and then gives the food to the disciples. With their own hands they will be the ones to give the crowd “something to eat”. In his abundant love, the food never runs out. The baskets seem to always be full. All eat their fill. All are satisfied. The leftovers amount to twelve basketfuls of broken pieces. A basket for each disciple to carry as a reminder?

In today’s story Jesus teaches that even something small and seemingly insignificant – a child’s meal – can provide abundantly when given to God. Today – a small act of kindness, the loving presence to a hurting friend, a generous spirit towards one in need – how will God use one of us to be love and compassion to another in the world? May we each offer what we can to God’s purposes in the world, revealing his ever abundant love.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me forth with eyes and hearts wide open. Guide me as you need me to go. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Obedient

Reading: Romans 6: 12-23

Verse 22: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life”.

Paul calls on the Romans and on us to walk the path that leads to life. This path begins with offering our very life to God in witness and in service. In doing so we become the “instruments of righteousness” that Paul refers to in verse thirteen. In offering ourselves to God we are becoming obedient to God and to his will. Paul uses the term “slave” – indicating that all of our life is obedient to God. It is a total and full commitment, not just a few hours here and there.

The path of life is the opposite of the path of sin and death. Obedience to God and to the way of Jesus Christ leads not to death but to grace and hope and love. In verse 22 Paul writes, “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life”. Becoming slaves to God, using Paul’s terminology, frees us from sin and its trappings. Becoming obedient to God makes us more and more holy. In Wesleyan terminology, this is “moving on towards perfection”. In everyday terms, it is becoming more and more like Jesus Christ every day. The end game, the result for us, is not just the grace and hope and love and peace… that we experience in this life – all true – but is life eternal.

As we turn from self today, the part of us that leads to sin and away from God, may we be filled more and more with his light and love. In being so filled, may we bring his light and love out into the world. May it be so!

Prayer: Eternal God, today may I choose the path of light and love. Guide me to seek to love you and others far more than self. Lead and guide me to bear witness to your will and your way today. Amen.


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Children of Light

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verses 8 and 10: “Live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord”.

Paul speaks to us today about light and darkness. The passage begins by reminding us that we were once in darkness. There was a time for all of us when we did not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But once we made the good confession, we became children of the light. We may stray into darkness once in a while, but the light reminds us of where we’ve wandered and through the power of the Holy Spirit we are drawn back to the light. Paul encourages us today to “live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord”. As Christians, this should just be our norm.

How do we know what pleases the Lord? The Bible is full of advice! It is mostly found in the gospels, in the life of Jesus. We please God when our love for him and for the other is greater than our love for self. In Jesus’ life and teachings that boiled down to loving the poor and the marginalized, to caring for the sick and the sinful, to being obedient to the Father, and to offering acts of reconciliation and forgiveness to those we have harmed and to those who have harmed us. Some, maybe even many, of these things are challenging. It is a narrow road. Nonetheless, living a life of service to God and to others is what pleases God.

Even in this day and season of fear and social distancing we are still called to be “children of the light”. We have many ways to safely love our neighbors. We have lots of time to study the gospels to deepen our faith and our understanding of our call as disciples. In all we do and say, may we continue to be a fruitful offering to God. May we all be pleasing in his sight.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for opening my eyes and heart. Please continue to lead and guide us to be people of light. Keep us safe as we engage the world in this scary time. May we be a blessing to others. Amen.


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6: 4-8

Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”?

Our passage today begins with God reminding the people of all that God has recently done for them. God gave them leaders and brought them out of slavery. God guided them to the promised land, performing righteous act after righteous act all along the way. How could the people be so disconnected from a God that has shown them so much love? Yet if we took a few minutes to reflect on how God has led us, guided us, blessed us, forgiven us, rescued us… we too might be a bit ashamed of how disconnected we can be from God for periods or even seasons in our lives.

Micah then asks an important, self-reflective question. In verse six he asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”? If we more frequently asked this question, we would be connected to God more of our lives. Micah goes on to ask if God really desires burnt offerings of calves or rams or if God really needs thank offerings equivalent to rivers of oil. Micah even wonders if the sacrifice of the firstborn child would cleanse the sin of his soul. Our questions are a little different but come from the same place. Is it not enough God that I’ve been to church two out of four Sundays most months? Is it not enough that I gave to the church some of what I had left at the end of the month? Didn’t I check off enough boxes to be blessed by you, O God?! The people of Micah’s day were going through the motions of being God’s people. They were all about doing.

In verse eight Micah reminds them and us of what God desires: “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God”. These are ways of being. These are ways of the heart. When we are people of justice, mercy, and humility, we are closely connected to the core of who God is. May we be people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and with our fellow humans. May it always be so.

Prayer: Father God, in all I do and say and think, help me to do it justly. In all I do and say and think, help me to lead with mercy. In all I do and say and think, help me to walk humbly, elevating you and others far above self. Draw me to you, O God. Amen.


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All in Praise

Reading: Psalm 27: 4-6

Verse 6: “I will sing and make music to the Lord”.

If you are a fan of contemporary Christian music you probably cannot read verse four without a song running through your head. This line appears in the song “Better Is One Day”. The author of that songs proclaims that “better is one day in you house than thousands elsewhere”. While this is true, David’s hope is much greater. In verse four he writes, “that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days if my life”. Not just one day but every day. That too should be our goal.

To be present to God, to “gaze upon his beauty”, is possible in many ways. We can do this when we are in spiritual connection with God through prayer or meditation or study. We can do this through a physical connection, such as seeing God in the beauty of nature or in the face of one who we are serving or ministering to. And, of course, we can do it as David does, when worshipping God.

In the Psalm, David rejoices in the times that God has kept him safe in days of trouble, rescuing David. This also leads David to praise God. With shouts of joy David offers himself in worship. There, in the temple, “I will sing and make music to the Lord”. This is David’s grateful response to God. In whatever shape or form that takes, may we too offer all of ourselves in praise to our God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Father God, you alone are worthy of my praise. You lead and guide me, you protect me. Time and time again you have saved me and set my feet upon the rock of Jesus Christ. This morning I praise you! I ask that you would be the Lord of my life all of my days. Amen.