pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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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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Reconciliation and Restoration

Reading: Matthew 18: 15-17

Verse 15: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”.

Today’s passage from Matthew 18 is about seeking the reconciliation and restoration of a relationship when it has been damaged. Above all else, Jesus’ call was to love one another. As the song goes, that’s how the world will know that we are Christians. This is especially true within the church. Here our love should be genuine and pure. It must be modeled in the church and in our relationships with one another. Jesus knew that the church would be just like all other organizations in one way: it is made up of imperfect people prone to sin and selfishness. As such, he knew that there would be conflicts and disagreements within the body of Christ. In today’s three verses we find practical steps for how to resolve conflict, especially in the church.

The causes for conflicts and disagreements can the gamut. The divide can be over deeply theological issues or it can be about painting a wall. Almost all issues, regardless of the root causes, will have deep ramifications for churches and individuals if left unresolved. So Jesus gives steps to avoid this. When conflict arises or when someone hurts or sins against another, the first step is personal. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”. Yes, this is hard for most of us to do. But it does provide the necessary space for being open and transparent. No one else is there to impress or to save face in front of. Going to someone directly lets them know you value them and your relationship with them enough to risk for them. It provides a space for honesty and open dialogue. Most often this step leads to reconciliation and to a deeper relationship.

Sometimes this first step does not work. Pride or who can intervene. Embarrassment or lack of understanding can also create a barrier to resolution. Jesus advises us to then take along one or two others to help guide the conversation. By involving others we often open up the conversation and find new ways to seek reconciliation. As a group we can often work things out that two struggle to do on their own. When this step fails, Jesus directs us to get even more help figuring out the conflict. He tells us to bring the matter before the whole congregation.

Both of these last two steps often involve some soul searching on our part. The sin may be obvious and surely needs correction. But if there is grey or doubt, it is a call for a time of sincere prayer and honest self-reflection. This step is always a good thing. The Holy Spirit will clarify and lead us to our best approach to the situation. Jesus does not want any division in the body. By going to the throne in prayer we are inviting Christ to guide us to reconciliation. When we invite him, he will always go with you!

Prayer: Loving God, lead and guide our conversations and relationships to be safe enough to tread into these uncomfortable spaces. May your Holy Spirit show us the way to unity and reconciliation within our Christian relationships and within our churches. Amen.


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Washed Clean

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13: 9-13

Verse 12: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”.

Today’s passage talks about our process and the end product. Paul begins by talking about when perfection comes. One day – maybe today, maybe in a few years, maybe in many generations – Jesus will return, making all things new and perfect. For some, perhaps many of us, we will be made new and perfect before that day. When we breathe our last and stand before Jesus we will be made new, holy and perfect in His eternal presence. Yet here, in this life, we also experience this in bursts. As we confess our sins and take communion this Sunday, we will be for a time holy and perfect in God’s sight as we are washed clean by the blood of Jesus.

Most of our lives, though, we are but a stained image of who and what we were and are created to be. Yes, we are made in the sacred image of God. But very soon in life, sin enters in and we are in a constant battle between faith and the world. We face temptation and we sin. We become stained, less than perfect. Yet our God never leaves us there. Just as the Holy Spirit brings conviction, so too does it lead us to confession and repentance. Grace and mercy wash over us, making us new again. And the process begins anew. It is different though. As we grow in our faith, our ability to detect and fight temptation grows as we learn to walk a more Christlike faith. We actually get a handle on a few sins and can leave them behind as we die to self. Yet sin is ever present. Like with Paul, there are some thorns in the flesh that remain. For example, I ever struggle with pride and ego and the need to be in control. Yes, the struggles are less, I see the sin more quickly, but they do persist. In this way we do begin to see that “poor reflection” more and more clearly as we grow to be more and more like Jesus.

Paul writes, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”. Today we know and love Jesus to a certain point. Tomorrow we hope to know Him a bit better. The same the next day as well. Then one day we will stand before Jesus and we will know Him fully. May we each journey well until that glorious day.

Prayer: Jesus, my hope and my salvation, keep me ever drawing closer to you. Work in me to reveal your love and glory to the world in need. May I reflect you to those I meet today. Amen.


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A Day of Quiet and Reflection

Reading: Matthew 27: 57-66

Verse 59: “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock”.

Today is a hard day for the followers of Jesus. It is a day of waiting. We read today of a brave man named Joseph who wanted to care for Jesus’ body at the end of the day Friday. He did not want the body left on the cross on the Sabbath. So Joseph gets permission from Pilate to place Jesus’ body in his own tomb. We read, “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock”. In John’s gospel we are told that Joseph had a helper. In John 19:39 we read that Nicodemus, the one who secretly visited Jesus at night, helps Joseph. A seed planted by Jesus has obviously been at work in Nicodemus.

Also present are two of the women who were regularly in the group that followed and cared for Jesus. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses “were sitting there opposite the tomb”. They are present maybe for a couple of reasons. One is practical. The placing of Jesus’ body in the tomb was quick and temporary. The women intended to return after observing the Sabbath to properly care for Jesus’ body with the usual spices. They were also present to mourn and grieve. To be physically near the one who has just passed is something that can bring some peace and comfort. In these moments, what else can one do?

This day has traditionally been a day of waiting. For Christians, we know what happens tomorrow – the grave is empty! Today we wait with anticipation and excitement. But, for Jesus’ followers, this day is a day of mourning and a lot of “now what” questions. It is a day of stillness and quiet. It is a day of confusion and discomfort. We have all been through the day after losing someonene dear. We all know the emotions and the thoughts that run through our hearts and minds. We know just what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and all of Jesus’ followers felt that day.

Today, may we too enter the stillness and the emotions of what it would be like to not have Jesus’ presence. In the stillness may we connect to the women outside the tomb. In the consideration of not living in His presence may we come to rejoice in the glory of living daily with the power and presence of the risen Christ. Today us a day of quiet and reflection. For us there is no sadness, for we know that Easter is coming. Hallelujah and amen!


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Better and Better

In our daily walk of faith I think God is seeking effort not perfection.  There will be days when we struggle to focus in our daily prayer time.  Every now and then our lives are so harried we cannot even remember the scripture we just read, nevermind meditating and reflecting on it.  God does not expect perfect children.

God does expect effort though.  If it is our desire to know God, we must invest in the relationship.  In life we get to know someone by spending time with them, by observing them, by listening to their stories.  If it our desire to know God and to hear His voice, this will require time and effort on our part.

The Good Shepherd cares for each of us.  Jesus laid down His life for each and every one of us.  He wants to guide and protect us, to teach and give discernment, and to offer rest and peace.  Jesus knows each of us by name and He knows all of our needs.  His desire is that we would know Him intimately as well.  Jesus wants us to be so close to Him that hearing His voice becomes second nature to us.

It is through prayer, study of the Bible, meditation, worship, and reflection that we come to know Jesus.  In these, prayer is of particular importance.  It is within these moments of personal silence before our Savior that He can best speak to us.   We must provide time, space, and attention to hear His voice.  We can also hear His voice in the practice of these other disciplines as well.  For some this is especially true in worship.  As we consistently spend time with our Good Shepherd, we draw closer and closer.  This day and each day, may our hearing become better and better.

Scripture reference: John 10: 11-15ap