pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Two Actions

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Continuing on from yesterday’s passage, Jesus gathers his disciples and the crowd to explain the cost of following. Having just explained the price that he will pay, Jesus details what will be expected of those who choose to follow him as Lord and Savior. The words that Jesus speaks are powerful and challenging. His words will become even more so as the disciples reflect on the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.

Jesus identifies two actions one must take to “come after” or to “follow” him. The first is to “deny self”. This is what Jesus lived out his whole ministry. He placed the needs and wants of God first, closely followed by the needs and wants of others. Self was a very distant third. If we were to follow Jesus today, what would this look like? It would begin with listening to the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God in our lives. The second step would be to respond to the guidance and direction of said Spirit as we respond to the needs of those we meet day by day. Jesus saw the other, the lonely, the hurting, the hungry… and ministered them as he encountered them. May we too have ears to hear and eyes to see.

The second action is to “take up” our cross. The cross represents the way of Jesus. For Jesus it was ultimately walking the path to suffering and death for the sake of others – for you and me. Along the way Jesus often took up the cross for others. He took up the cause of the marginalized and the sinners and the outcasts and declared them worthy of his time and of the kingdom of God. Each of these encounters against the powers of the world came with a price too. The way of Jesus calls us to sacrifice as well. Jesus calls us away from the things of this world by reminding us that the cost of trying to “gain the whole world” is to “forfeit” our soul. In contrast, following Jesus will save our soul. Giving up our selfish desires and leanings and focusing on Jesus’ example of sacrificial service will lead us to bless others as we live out the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ. May it be so as we seek to bring God the glory.

Prayer: Lord God, tune me in to the Holy Spirit within me. Guide me to not only hear but to respond, offering all I can to those I meet in the world around me. Empower me to shine your light in all I do and say. 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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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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Forward in Faith

Reading: Mark 1: 16-20

Verse 18: “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

Photo credit: Jillian Werner

In today’s passage Jesus calls the first four disciples. They are just regular people. All four are fishermen, used to a hard life. They work long hours, endure the weather, and rely upon the water for their livelihood. This day began just about like every other day – until Jesus walks along the shore. This scenario is true for most of us. Our days start about the same each day and then sometimes Jesus shows up, calling us into ministry.

First Jesus comes to Simon and Andrew. They are at work when Jesus comes, casting their nets into the sea. He simply says, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for men”. We read that “at once” they left their nets – right there in the water – and followed. The call of James and John is similar. They are mending their nets when Jesus calls them. “Without delay” James and John leave their father and the hired men behind to follow Jesus. Is this the lesson we are to take from today’s reading?

It certainly is one of them. Most of the opportunities we have to “come and follow” are moments unfolding in life at that time. The person the Holy Spirit nudges us towards may not be there any more or the particular need may not be there when we see them the next time. The door or window of opportunity that is open when the Spirit whispers in our ear may close or shut if we say we’ll get to it “tomorrow”. And, honestly, what call would Jesus give to you or me that would compare to the call these four fishermen received today? Well, honestly, each call rises to the level of being a disciple.

The first step for Andrew, Simon, James, and John is the first step for each of us. The first step is to decide if we trust Jesus. When we are nudged to go to that person or when the Holy Spirit whispers into our heart, we have no idea where that step will take us. Yet, just like these fishermen, we are called to step forward in faith. As Jesus calls us today or tomorrow or another day, may we each trust in the Lord. Without delay, may we go where the Lord sends us.

Prayer: Lord God, I’ve come to see that “not now” most often means “no”. Help me to be better in those moments when you call. That “thing” that feels oh so important is never as important as the person or need you are calling me to. Make me more obedient, Lord. Amen.


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Leading Others to Christ

Reading: John 1: 19-28

Verse 26: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know”.

In today’s passage the religious leaders send out some of their people to inquire of this man baptizing in the wilderness. Many ordinary people are going out to see John the Baptist. Confessing their sins, they receive a baptism of repentance. John is having a big and positive impact on the peoples’ faith. But John is not one of the religious elite. They want to know who he is.

John initiates the conversation by first stating that he is not the Christ. Then who? they ask. Not Elijah, not a prophet. Pressed, John quotes from Isaiah: “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord'”. This is exactly who he is, but the answer does not satisfy those sent to inquire. To them the answer is not definitive. Not getting the answer they want, they shift gears and ask, “Why then do you baptize”? John does not really answer this question either. Instead, he points to Jesus. After acknowledging that he baptizes with water John says, “Among you stands one you do not know”. This will remain true. The religious leaders will come to know who Jesus is, but they will never really know him. This sad reality is still true for many people today.

As followers of Jesus Christ we know who he is: the Lord and Savior of the world and of our lives. In just eleven days we will celebrate the coming of Christ, God in the flesh. Like John, as we prepare to celebrate, may we invite others to come to know Jesus as we do. As we near Christmas Eve may we seek to make Jesus more fully known day by day. May our lives lead others to know the Savior of the world. May it be so each day.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be a voice calling out, a voice that tells others about my Lord and Savior. Fill me with your Spirit and may the words I speak be words of peace and joy, of love and hope. Amen.


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Ought To

Reading: 2nd Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse 11: “What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives”.

As the years pass, some of the second generation believers begin to question if Jesus is really returning. This generation did not see and hear Jesus himself teach and heal. They worry that eternal life and salvation may not be a part of their lives. They begin to wander from the faith. The fear of an imminent return had kept the more “mature” believers on the narrow path that Jesus had taught them personally. We also have this tendency. When we first believed we were “on fire” and now many are but slightly smouldering. In life, we too often procrastinate and then try and pull it off as the deadline looms. Unless it has to do with others. We want them to have things done yesterday, we want that item we ordered to get here before we order it. And if that little circle on our computer or phone spins just a titch too long…

In today’s passage Peter calls us to the fine line of our faith – be patient always but it could happen at any moment. We are called to endure and persevere on our journey of faith, knowing that it could all end this hour. So Peter asks the tough question: “What kind of people ought you to be”? This reminds me of the question about what I hope people say at my funeral. Well, I hope they say I loved the Lord and my family, that I gave time to serving others, that I was a generous soul, that I was selfless. Both questions get at the same end. As Peter writes, “You ought to live holy and godly lives”. The big question for us is this: are we? Are we living holy and godly lives? Am I? Are you?

Taking time to reflect on our lives and to refocus on the goal is important, especially in this season of Advent. For many of us, this Sunday is a day when we celebrate Holy Communion, a time that calls us to consider the state of our souls, to confess and repent of our sins, to be made new again. For all of us, as we move closer to December 24, we prepare to meet the holy and godly one who came as a baby, who grew up to set the ultimate example for who and what we ought to be as we live out our lives and our faith. As we do so, may we heed this plea that we find today in verse fourteen: “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to a difficult thing: holy and godly. In my humanity I cannot be these things. Alone, I am lost and without hope. But with you, with the presence of your Holy Spirit, I can live day by day seeking to become more and more like Jesus, the perfector of the faith. So fill me with your Holy Spirit. Guide me to how I ought to live, bringing you all of the glory and the honor. Amen.


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Ought To

Reading: 2nd Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse 11: “What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives”.

As the years pass, some of the second generation believers begin to question if Jesus is really returning. This generation did not see and hear Jesus himself teach and heal. They worry that eternal life and salvation may not be a part of their lives. They begin to wander from the faith. The fear of an imminent return had kept the more “mature” believers on the narrow path that Jesus had taught them personally. We also have this tendency. When we first believed we were “on fire” and now many are but slightly smouldering. In life, we too often procrastinate and then try and pull it off as the deadline looms. Unless it has to do with others. We want them to have things done yesterday, we want that item we ordered to get here before we order it. And if that little circle on our computer or phone spins just a titch too long…

In today’s passage Peter calls us to the fine line of our faith – be patient always but it could happen at any moment. We are called to endure and persevere on our journey of faith, knowing that it could all end this hour. So Peter asks the tough question: “What kind of people ought you to be”? This reminds me of the question about what I hope people say at my funeral. Well, I hope they say I loved the Lord and my family, that I gave time to serving others, that I was a generous soul, that I was selfless. Both questions get at the same end. As Peter writes, “You ought to live holy and godly lives”. The big question for us is this: are we? Are we living holy and godly lives? Am I? Are you?

Taking time to reflect on our lives and to refocus on the goal is important, especially in this season of Advent. For many of us, this Sunday is a day when we celebrate Holy Communion, a time that calls us to consider the state of our souls, to confess and repent of our sins, to be made new again. For all of us, as we move closer to December 24, we prepare to meet the holy and godly one who came as a baby, who grew up to set the ultimate example for who and what we ought to be as we live out our lives and our faith. As we do so, may we heed this plea that we find today in verse fourteen: “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to a difficult thing: holy and godly. In my humanity I cannot be these things. Alone, I am lost and without hope. But with you, with the presence of your Holy Spirit, I can live day by day seeking to become more and more like Jesus, the perfector of the faith. So fill me with your Holy Spirit. Guide me to how I ought to live, bringing you all of the glory and the honor. Amen.


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Ought To

Reading: 2nd Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse 11: “What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives”.

As the years pass, some of the second generation believers begin to question if Jesus is really returning. This generation did not see and hear Jesus himself teach and heal. They worry that eternal life and salvation may not be a part of their lives. They begin to wander from the faith. The fear of an imminent return had kept the more “mature” believers on the narrow path that Jesus had taught them personally. We also have this tendency. When we first believed we were “on fire” and now many are but slightly smouldering. In life, we too often procrastinate and then try and pull it off as the deadline looms. Unless it has to do with others. We want them to have things done yesterday, we want that item we ordered to get here before we order it. And if that little circle on our computer or phone spins just a titch too long…

In today’s passage Peter calls us to the fine line of our faith – be patient always but it could happen at any moment. We are called to endure and persevere on our journey of faith, knowing that it could all end this hour. So Peter asks the tough question: “What kind of people ought you to be”? This reminds me of the question about what I hope people say at my funeral. Well, I hope they say I loved the Lord and my family, that I gave time to serving others, that I was a generous soul, that I was selfless. Both questions get at the same end. As Peter writes, “You ought to live holy and godly lives”. The big question for us is this: are we? Are we living holy and godly lives? Am I? Are you?

Taking time to reflect on our lives and to refocus on the goal is important, especially in this season of Advent. For many of us, this Sunday is a day when we celebrate Holy Communion, a time that calls us to consider the state of our souls, to confess and repent of our sins, to be made new again. For all of us, as we move closer to December 24, we prepare to meet the holy and godly one who came as a baby, who grew up to set the ultimate example for who and what we ought to be as we live out our lives and our faith. As we do so, may we heed this plea that we find today in verse fourteen: “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to a difficult thing: holy and godly. In my humanity I cannot be these things. Alone, I am lost and without hope. But with you, with the presence of your Holy Spirit, I can live day by day seeking to become more and more like Jesus, the perfector of the faith. So fill me with your Holy Spirit. Guide me to how I ought to live, bringing you all of the glory and the honor. 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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Glimpses

Reading: Exodus 33: 12-23

Verse 16: “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us”?

Last week in Exodus 32 we read about how God was displeased with and angry with the people for making and worshipping an idol. Moses stood in the gap for the people and God’s wrath relented. Between then and today’s reading, two significant events happened. Moses called the Levites to himself and then sent them out into the camp armed with swords. 3,000 people were killed. We believe these were the ringleaders in the doubting of Moses’ return and in the forming of the golden calf. The second event is the setting up of the “tent of meeting”. Moses set up a small tent just outside of camp to inquire of the Lord. The people could see Moses go into the tent and know where he was. The pillar of cloud would stand at the entrance to the tent when Moses was inside, indicating God’s presence. In these times the people would worship God.

At this point, apparently God is considering sending the Israelites on into the Promised Land on their own. In today’s passage Moses first reminds God, “these are your people”. Moses then makes it personal, asking God to go with him. God is willing to be present to Moses because he has been faithful to God. Moses continues to press the issue, saying, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here”. In essence, without God, what would be the point of going any further? Moses then asks, “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us”? Without God’s presence, the Israelites are indistinguishable from any other people on the face of the earth. The same is true for us. Without God’s presence in our lives, we would be just like most of the world. At best, we’d just be some nice, kind people gathering in nice buildings.

As the passage continues, God agrees to continue being Israel’s God. Next Moses asks to see God’s glory. If God is willing to be present to and with him and the people, Moses wants to have a glimpse of God. God agrees to cause “all of my goodness” to pass by Moses. God hides Moses in the cleft of a rock at the moment of his passing by. To see God’s face would bring death. God’s hand shields Moses in the critical moment and then Moses sees God’s back as God walks on.

We too long for glimpses of God in our lives. We also want to tangibly feel close to God and to his presence. At times we do. These moments can be in worship at church or in a sunrise or along the path in the woods. It can be wrapped in the kindness or love of others or it can be in the way we feel after a time of reverent prayer. These are but a few of the ways we can catch a glimpse of God in our lives. Where else have you caught a glimpse of God? As you and I reflect on this question, may we rejoice and praise the Lord our God for his presence in our lives.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for your presence in my life and for all the times I have literally felt you with me and for the times when I have seen you in another or in the created world. You are so kind and good to me. Thank you, Lord! Amen.