pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Water of Life

Reading: Revelation 22:1-5

Verse 1: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

Our Revelation passage begins when the water, the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal.” Just as it is today, in Biblical times water was essential to life. Without water, life is not possible for humanity, plants, and animals. In John’s vision, the river is the water of life and it is pure and crystal clear. This reflects God’s purity. The water is flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” This reflects the abundance of God’s love.

Images and connections to water are tied to many aspects of God. In the beginning God harnessed the waters to create a world and throughout the Bible God gives water to the people or withholds water when repentance is needed. God parts the water to rescue God’s people and floods the earth when redemption was beyond humanity. Jesus himself was the “living water” and was immersed in the waters of baptism, initiating the means by which we are brought into the faith community. And the Holy Spirit is poured out upon all who believe, flowing into and filling every nook and cranny of our heart with Jesus Christ’s living presence.

The water of life comes to us by God’s grace. It is a free gift that sustains us and cleanses us. This water is life-giving. This day may we share the gift with others.

Prayer: Lord God, may the Holy Spirit within overflow from my heart today, offering another a taste of the living water. May it be so. Amen.


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Eye on Jesus

Reading: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Verse 26: “Such a high priest meets our needs – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”

Today in Hebrews 7 we read about Jesus Christ, our priest forever. While in ministry on earth Jesus provided us an example for how to live out and live into God’s perfect love. Unlike earthly priests, Jesus was raised to new life and “because Jesus lives forever he has a permanent priesthood.” Jesus continues his saving work in heaven “because he always lives to intercede” for you and for me. Jesus prays for you and for me on a continual basis, ever bringing us before God.

In verse 26 we read, “Such a high priest meets our needs – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” This list is quite the list! It is also the example that we are called to follow, the footsteps that we must walk in. If this list feels intimidating or if it seems impossible we must remember that Jesus himself is praying for us – for us to be faithful disciples, for us to love God and others well, for us to be forgiven when we sin, for us to be strengthened when tempted, for us to be comforted when in sorrow, for us to… The one who died to save us is praying for us on our journey of faith.

To be holy, blameless, pure… is a high calling. But we are called to a high calling: to be like Christ. Jesus is for us; he is on our side. We know that with God all things are possible. Therefore let us keep our eye on Jesus, seeking to live as his faithful disciple day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, empower me to model Jesus Christ today. Help me to be love lived out, to be grace poured out freely. In and through me may others see and come to know Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. Amen.


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Eye on Jesus

Reading: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Verse 26: “Such a high priest meets our needs – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”

Today in Hebrews 7 we read about Jesus Christ, our priest forever. While in ministry on earth Jesus provided us an example for how to live out and live into God’s perfect love. Unlike earthly priests, Jesus was raised to new life and “because Jesus lives forever he has a permanent priesthood.” Jesus continues his saving work in heaven “because he always lives to intercede” for you and for me. Jesus prays for you and for me on a continual basis, ever bringing us before God.

In verse 26 we read, “Such a high priest meets our needs – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” This list is quite the list! It is also the example that we are called to follow, the footsteps that we must walk in. If this list feels intimidating or if it seems impossible we must remember that Jesus himself is praying for us – for us to be faithful disciples, for us to love God and others well, for us to be forgiven when we sin, for us to be strengthened when tempted, for us to be comforted when in sorrow, for us to… The one who died to save us is praying for us on our journey of faith.

To be holy, blameless, pure… is a high calling. But we are called to a high calling: to be like Christ. Jesus is for us; he is on our side. We know that with God all things are possible. Therefore let us keep our eye on Jesus, seeking to live as his faithful disciple day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, empower me to model Jesus Christ today. Help me to be love lived out, to be grace poured out freely. In and through me may others see and come to know Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. Amen.


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Imagine

Reading: Mark 10: 13-16

Verse 15: “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

As our passage opens, people are trying to bring their children to Jesus and the disciples are stopping them. The disciples must have thought the children unworthy of Jesus’ time or that his time could be better spent with more pressing needs. We read that Jesus was “indignant” with what they are doing. Jesus is upset by the inferior treatment that the children are receiving. He corrects the disciples’ behavior with these words: “Let the little children come to me… for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Why does the kingdom of God belong to “such as these?”

Children are innocent – they don’t see color or know prejudice or stereotypes. Children are pure – they haven’t learned to be selfish and they want to get along with everyone. Children are vulnerable – they need feel a sense of belonging and to feel loved. Children are dependent – they rely on others to care for them, to protect them, to guide them. What if we entered our relationship with God from this perspective? What if we came into worship, into times of prayer, into times of study and meditation without biases and judgment, with a longing to belong and to feel loved, and with a willingness to be guided by the Holy Spirit? Imagine how different our life of faith would be! In verse fifteen we read, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Is our worship, our prayer life, our other times with God as rich and powerful when we enter with our expectations and our other adult baggage? It is not.

As we approach God and the kingdom work that God places before us today, may we do so with an innocence and a realization of our deep need for God in our lives. Doing so we will be held and blessed by Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, what a beautiful way to think about our approach to faith. To really enter into time with you as a child would – needy for your attention, presence, guidance, love… Help me to simply come to you, open to all you have to offer. Amen.


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Imagine

Reading: Mark 10: 13-16

Verse 15: “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

As our passage opens, people are trying to bring their children to Jesus and the disciples are stopping them. The disciples must have thought the children unworthy of Jesus’ time or that his time could be better spent with more pressing needs. We read that Jesus was “indignant” with what they are doing. Jesus is upset by the inferior treatment that the children are receiving. He corrects the disciples’ behavior with these words: “Let the little children come to me… for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Why does the kingdom of God belong to “such as these?”

Children are innocent – they don’t see color or know prejudice or stereotypes. Children are pure – they haven’t learned to be selfish and they want to get along with everyone. Children are vulnerable – they need feel a sense of belonging and to feel loved. Children are dependent – they rely on others to care for them, to protect them, to guide them. What if we entered our relationship with God from this perspective? What if we came into worship, into times of prayer, into times of study and meditation without biases and judgment, with a longing to belong and to feel loved, and with a willingness to be guided by the Holy Spirit? Imagine how different our life of faith would be! In verse fifteen we read, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Is our worship, our prayer life, our other times with God as rich and powerful when we enter with our expectations and our other adult baggage? It is not.

As we approach God and the kingdom work that God places before us today, may we do so with an innocence and a realization of our deep need for God in our lives. Doing so we will be held and blessed by Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, what a beautiful way to think about our approach to faith. To really enter into time with you as a child would – needy for your attention, presence, guidance, love… Help me to simply come to you, open to all you have to offer. Amen.


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Pure and Steadfast

Reading: Psalm 51: 10-12

Verse 12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.

We return to Psalm 51 today. The Psalm comes from the messiness that has just occurred in David’s life. This is something we all experience. We cannot totally avoid sin – we are human.

Sometimes I think I could be less sinful if I lived an isolated life. If I were a monk or hermit maybe I’d sin less. But then I realize that my humanity would creep in. I’d get jealous of that monk who was recognized. I’d be angry that this other monk didn’t do his fair share in the garden. I’d long to be the one asked to lead this or that. Even in that monastic lifestyle I’d still struggle with sin. There too I’d have times when I failed to act, when I chose not to offer kindness, when I’d keep my gifts and talents to myself. I’d not escape these sins either.

David’s prayer for God to “create in me a pure heart… a steadfast spirit within me” needs to be my prayer too. Being pure and steadfast are always things I struggle with. Our section of Psalm 51 closes with these words: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”. This verse follows David’s plea to not be “cast” away. Yes, our sin is ever before us. But so is God. Out of our repentance God will ever be right there to redeem and restore us. Yes, Lord, give us a willing spirit; sustain us all in this journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, so often I fail and yet your mercy remains. So often I harm our relationship or my relationships with others, yet your grace always abounds. Your love is so great. Thank you for loving me beyond myself. Amen.


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In God’s Presence

Reading: Psalm 24: 1-6

Verse 3: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place”?

Photo credit: Steve Horner

As I read the first two verses of the Psalm my mind was drawn to the past three days that I spent in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area. As I saw tranquil lakes, majestic mountains, stunning wildflowers, marmot and moose, I was reminded over and over that “the earth is the Lord’s”. I often voiced praise to the creator for the works of his hands. The picture is our camping spot – a small sample of the beauty of God’s creation.

That small spot of creation was almost seven miles up the trail. Steve, Jeff, and I carried everything we needed to survive three days in the wilderness on our backs. As I read verses three and four today I connected the psalmist’s spiritual quest with my physical quest. As we topped crest after crest as we worked our way up to Lake Marion, on many occasions I questioned my ability to make it to our planned destination. I often thought, ‘What am I doing here’? I think that was what the psalmist was asking when he wrote, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place”? At times we all feel unworthy or unable to enter into the presence of the Lord our God.

The psalmist answers his own questions in the next verse: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart”. To stand in God’s presence we must be made clean. We must have a pure heart. On our own, we are powerless to make ourselves clean and pure. But we do not walk alone. Just as Jeff or Steve walking along ahead of or behind me gave me the power to continue hiking, so too do we have one who walks with us, one who cleanses us from all sin. The grace and mercy and forgiveness that we receive through Jesus Christ is the “blessing and vindication” that we are given in and through our Lord and Savior. Thanks be to God that we do not walk alone.

Prayer: Lord God, creator of all things, the beauty and splendor of the works of your hand are amazing and wonderful. Yet they pale in comparison to your love and grace. Thank you Lord for these blessings and your constant presence in my life. Amen.


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Always, Always

Reading: Psalm 51: 7-12

Verse 11: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”.

Photo credit: Jonas Jacobsson

Originally the Psalms were songs or prayers used to worship God. The Psalms express the collective whole of our human emotions, the challenges of our faith, and the depth of God’s love for us. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer to God that encompasses all three of these expressions.

Lent is a time when we also express these things as we look within and seek to live a more faithful life. When we do as David does in this Psalm – bearing his heart and soul to a holy and just God – there is a deep trust that God will cleanse us and will bring us healing, that God will “restore to me the joy of your salvation”. There is also a hard reality too. To “create in me a pure heart” and to cleanse me, God has to get a good, clear look at my sins and failures. That is humbling. That feels vulnerable.

Have you ever messed up really bad and you know that you have to go and apologize? You know you need to try and make things right again. You want to restore the relationship. But you really messed up. In your heart and mind you wonder if they’ll forgive you or if they’ll send you packing. Even though David has walked a long time with God, there is a part of him cautious about bringing these sins before God. David really messed up. This feeling runs beneath the surface of the Psalm. In his mind, great is his sin. A part of David wonders if God will restore those “crushed bones”… In verse eleven David pleads, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”. God, don’t send me packing. These words of David acknowledge God as the one with the power and ability to cleanse and restore, as the one who renews and sustains us. And these words express a desire to be in God’s presence, to continue in relationship with God. This desire connects into David’s request for knowing again the joy of salvation and of having a “willing spirit” within that sustains him.

In our human relationships we do sometimes wonder if they’ll forgive us. Did we mess up too bad this time? With God there really is no doubt, no questioning, no point of being “too bad”. God always, always seek to cast the net wide, to guide us back into a right relationship with him. As David did, we must enter into his holy and just presence, trusting in a love that is greater than all of our sin. Thanks be to God for his love.

Prayer: God, create in me a willing spirit, a deep desire to have a pure heart. Cleanse me daily of my iniquities, restore me often to the joy of your salvation. Grant me a willing spirit that seeks to be in an intimate and personal relationship with you. Amen.


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Walking God’s Way

Reading: Psalm 19: 7-14

Verses 12-13: “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins”.

In today’s reading David begins by reminding us of the beauty of God’s laws. In verses seven through ten David praises God for his laws, statutes, precepts, commands, and ordinances. Taken as a whole and commonly known as the Law, these ways of God lead and guide the faithful. David rejoices in the law, naming it as perfect, trustworthy, pure, right, radiant, and sure. To illustrate how much he values the law, David notes that it is more precious than “much pure gold”. Reading Psalms like this draw us into studying and learning about God’s ways. For David, and for followers today, the law both “warns” and also yields “great reward”. Understanding and living God’s ways is the path to true life now and one day in eternity.

Walking God’s path is not always easy. In verses twelve and thirteen David writes, “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins”. At times we all suddenly think things in our hearts that we should not. These hidden sins feel private but are known by God. Even though committed in secret, we must confess them to God. We are also tempted on a regular basis. Satan is ever on the prowl, ever seeking to lead us to step off the path, ever enticing us to satisfy self. These are the sins that we have a choice in. The seed is planted and sometimes we allow it to grow and take root. When we allow this to continue to fruition, we commit a willful sin. These too must be confessed to the Lord.

Just as God’s ways are beautiful and life-giving, so too is his mercy and grace. Unlike the law, we are at times imperfect, impure, unjust, unrighteous. God forgives. God cleanses. God restores. As David prays, so too may we pray: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight”.

Prayer: God of mercy and love, guide me this day to walk in your ways, doing what is right and what is pleasing to you. Thank you for the love that always brings me back when I stumble. 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.