pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Play the Shepherd

Reading: Psalm 23:1-3

Verse 2: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters – he restores my soul.”

Today we turn to Psalm 23, probably the best known of all the Psalms. David begins with “the Lord is my shepherd.” This term is very common throughout the Bible. It is often used as a metaphor for God’s love and care and guidance and protection. As is the case in the usual readings of the Psalm, we often play the role of the sheep.

In the New Testament one of Jesus’ strongest commands is to “love one another as I have loved you.” He gives this command just after washing the disciples’ feet. What if we, like the Lord and Teacher, like the Good Shepherd, bear witness to his love by also serving others? What if that is how we sometimes play the role of shepherd as we seek to love others as Jesus first loved us?

In verse 2 we read about how the Lord “makes me lie down in green pastures… leads me beside quiet waters.” These actions lead rest and to a restoration of the soul. For some of us, green pastures and quiet waters are restorative. For others maybe it is a mountaintop or a rushing stream. For others it may be a vibrant worship service. For some it’s time in a quiet prayer chapel. For some it is a coffee and some people watching. For others it is a ballgame or an afternoon drive or a long distance run or ride or… Each of us finds peace and restoration in our own way. All of us long to say, “he restores my soul.”

We will all share pasture today with someone who is without peace, who is without quiet, who needs some restoration of the soul. The question I invite you to consider is this: How can you provide them with “green pastures and still waters” – whatever that might look like for them – today or this week? Consider how you can love or care or guide or protect them to offer some soul restoration. Doing so, you will serve them and love them as Jesus Christ loves you. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to see what I can offer another that will bring peace and restoration to their soul. Guide me to shepherd them and to love them as you love me. Amen.


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Blessed Are…

Reading: Psalm 32:1-5

Verse 5: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity… and you forgave the guilt of my sins.”

Our passage begins with two beatitudes or blessing statements – “Blessed are…” the one whose sins are forgiven and the one with no deceit in their spirit. To be blessed, to live in right relationship with God and with one another, we must be people of forgiveness and people of honesty and integrity. We must be willing both to receive and to offer forgiveness. We must live an upright life before God and with each other.

In verses 3 and 4 we see the impact of remaining in our sin. David writes, “my bones wasted away” as his “strength was sapped.” To live in sin is life-taking, joy-stealing, and energy-consuming. In those seasons when I have strayed and lived a sinful life, I was always worried about being found out and about how my actions were hurting myself and others. When one knows of the better way, it is hard to live in sin. At other times I have lived with or overlooked iniquities – prejudice, bias, racism, sexism, classism. My silence or inaction was my sin. Worse yet, at times I used these unjust systems to my advantage. There are other ways, of course, that I have fallen short. These failures, when left unconfessed, become “heavy” upon us.

God is faithful. God offers a remedy. In verse 5 we read, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.” David came clean and was honest with himself and with God. He laid bare his sins and iniquities before God. God is faithful. God did not condemn him. No, “and you forgave the guilt of my sins.” God pardoned him. God wiped away the guilt and restored David to right relationship. God once again brought David to a place of blessing. Blessed are we when we confess our sins and iniquities. God is faithful. God will cleanse and restore and redeem us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, temptation is ever before me. The ways of the world and the lies of Satan ever seek to draw me in, to trap me. Fill me with your Spirit, guide me by your will, conform me to Christ. Strengthen me this day and each day so that I may walk as a faithful disciple. Amen.


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Words of Delight

Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5

Verse 3: “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.”

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In today’s passage Isaiah is writing about Zion (or Jerusalem), the center of the Jewish faith. Isaiah wrote during tumultuous times, often speaking hard words of truth calling the people away from sin and back towards God. He also spoke words of hope. In spite of the sins of the people and the consequences that would come, God remained faithful, always loving God’s people. During their exile it often felt like God was silent or absent. That is where our passage today begins.

In the opening verse God declares, “I will not keep silent.” One day God will again speak. God will restore Zion. Her righteousness will then “shine out like the dawn” and the salvation she will experience will be “like a blazing torch.” All the nations and kings will see how God restores Zion. A new name will be given: “my delight is in her”. To Zion God says, “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.” How things will be different when the people return to walking in the ways of the Lord. What a glorious day that will be!

We can also read these words as words that are personal, as words that bring us hope when we have gone astray. The same love expressed for Zion is present in our relationship with God. The times of separation that we experience is much like the seasons when God felt silent or absent to the Israelites. In these seasons in our lives God longs to restore and redeem us, to return us to “crowns of splendor”. The promise remains: “the Lord will take delight in you.” God will continue to draw us back in, to call out to us, to pour out mercy and grace over us, to hold us tight. What words of hope and promise! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for a love that never fails. Like Israel, sometimes I fall short; sometimes I wander from your love. But your love remains. You always seek to restore, to redeem, to reconnect with me. Thank you for your love that never fails. Amen.


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Greater Still

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 18-20

Verse 19: “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered.”

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Continuing to point towards the day when the Lord God will restore Judah and Jerusalem, Zephaniah speaks hope to those who are separated from God. The people’s disobedience offended God’s sense of justice. Because of their great sin they were almost unrecognizable to God. Disaster would befall the people. But God’s love was greater still. The God who is mighty to save will one day restore Israel as well as the other nations of the world.

In verse nineteen we read, “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered.” The army that Zephaniah predicted will come and destroy, leaving behind a small remnant while carrying many off into exile. The remnant was a shell of what was and will struggle to survive. They are the lame that God will rescue. Those carried off will lose connection with God. Living in a foreign land they will be unable to worship in the temple; they will not be able to celebrate the annual holy feasts. They too will become a shell of what once was. These are the scattered that God will gather. Reflecting back upon Zephaniah’s words many years later, the Israelites will see and better understand the need for both God’s justice and God’s love.

At times we too can find hope in these words. At times life will leave us struggling – illness or disease, unwanted change, bad decisions… We can find ourselves in need of rescue. At times we will wander off, straying from our faith. We too can end up far away from God, as if we were living in a foreign land. Once there, we need God to gather us back in. At times these forces can intertwine and build one upon the other. “Life” happens and we begin to doubt or to question God, leading our faith into a place of uncertainty or maybe even separation from God. In this place we need both rescue and gathering. As it was with God’s people of old so it will be with us today. “At that time I will gather you: at that time I will bring you home.” God’s love is greater still. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, when I find myself in a place that feels void of your presence, stir up the Holy Spirit in my heart. Remind me of your living presence and of your great love for even me. Thank you for your steadfast love. Amen.


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Wisdom… A Choice

Reading: Proverbs 1: 20-27

Verses 21 and 22: “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.”

Photo credit: Diogo Palhais

For Solomon and for the Israelites wisdom is understanding and following God’s will and ways. Wisdom leads one to live in fear or reverence of the Lord. In Proverbs, wisdom is represented by a wise and discerning woman. Like a good mother, Wisdom wants all of the children to live well and to do as they ought to do. But the streets are noisy. The voice of the world is loud.

In the opening verses we read, “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.” Can you hear how badly Wisdom wants to be heard? Can you sense how much she loves all of the children of God? Perhaps you too can relate as you recall times when your own children would not listen, times when they had to learn the hard way. We too could have asked as Wisdom asks: “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?”

It is a choice. It is a choice we still wrestle with daily. Lovingly Wisdom says, “If you had responded… I would have poured out my heart to you.” If only we had listened. If only we had heeded the voice of the Spirit, the words of wisdom spoken into our hearts. If only.

For Solomon the results or consequences of rejecting and ignoring Wisdom is calamity and distress; it is an overwhelming trouble that comes. We have been here. We have rejected and ignored the words of life. And we have walked the valley. But because of grace, we don’t walk alone. Because of mercy we are not left in our sin. Because of love we are redeemed and restored. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I am foolish at times. Yes, I make poor choices at times. I sin. But your love and grace and mercy are always greater than my failures and sins. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Wisdom… A Choice

Reading: Proverbs 1: 20-27

Verses 21 and 22: “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.”

Photo credit: Diogo Palhais

For Solomon and for the Israelites wisdom is understanding and following God’s will and ways. Wisdom leads one to live in fear or reverence of the Lord. In Proverbs, wisdom is represented by a wise and discerning woman. Like a good mother, Wisdom wants all of the children to live well and to do as they ought to do. But the streets are noisy. The voice of the world is loud.

In the opening verses we read, “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.” Can you hear how badly Wisdom wants to be heard? Can you sense how much she loves all of the children of God? Perhaps you too can relate as you recall times when your own children would not listen, times when they had to learn the hard way. We too could have asked as Wisdom asks: “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?”

It is a choice. It is a choice we still wrestle with daily. Lovingly Wisdom says, “If you had responded… I would have poured out my heart to you.” If only we had listened. If only we had heeded the voice of the Spirit, the words of wisdom spoken into our hearts. If only.

For Solomon the results or consequences of rejecting and ignoring Wisdom is calamity and distress; it is an overwhelming trouble that comes. We have been here. We have rejected and ignored the words of life. And we have walked the valley. But because of grace, we don’t walk alone. Because of mercy we are not left in our sin. Because of love we are redeemed and restored. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I am foolish at times. Yes, I make poor choices at times. I sin. But your love and grace and mercy are always greater than my failures and sins. Thank you, Lord. 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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Steadfast and Eternal

Reading: Mark 5: 35-43

Verse 36: “Don’t be afraid; just believe”.

Photo credit: Aron Visuals

Today we again pick up the story of Jairus and his daughter. The woman with the 12-year condition has been healed. It is now almost time to continue on so that Jesus can attend to Jairus’ daughter. But just as Jesus finishes speaking to the woman, men from Jairus’ house arrive to tell him, “Your daughter is dead”. In immediate response, “ignoring what they said”, Jesus says to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe”. We hear of no response or reaction from Jairus. He, Jesus, and Peter, James, and John leave everyone else behind and proceed to the house. Was Jairus still hopeful? Did he still believe in Jesus’ power? Was he just numbly walking along?

Arriving at the house, the mourning is already well under way. Preparations for death had been made. Clearing the house, Jesus takes Jairus and his wife plus Peter, James, and John to the little girl’s room. Taking her hand, Jesus calls her back to life. Immediately the daughter stands up and begins to walk around. Like the woman, she is completely healed, fully restored. Whatever had been killing the girl is totally gone. Jairus’ plea for help and all of the prayers lifted for this girl and her family are answered. Resisting fear and holding onto belief brings life to his little daughter.

The woman is healed. The daughter brought back to life. Does faith always lead to a good outcome? Does resisting fear always hold off grief or the time of trial? No, not always. Life will still happen – illness persists, death is final. Yet God is both of these too – steadfast and eternal. Trusting in God and believing that he is always in control is our strength in the storm. God can do the impossible. May we walk in faith, ever standing upon our steadfast and eternal God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are ever with me in the highs and lows plus all the places in between. May I be as true to you, O Lord. Amen.


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Love Forever

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 19-29

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Psalm 118 is a song of remembrance, victory, celebration. The historical context is the story of exodus, of God freeing Israel from years of slavery in Egypt. The song would be sung during the three yearly festivals as a way to thank God for his presence with the people. As the people marched into Jerusalem, recalling God’s saving acts, there is much joy and expectation as they enter the gates of the city. Years and years of doing this is what lends such energy to the day we know as Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry.

Even though the exodus story is the foundation, the theme of being freed from slavery is the main theme of this Psalm. There is much messianic language in the second part of the Psalm: salvation, stone, rejection, light. We will delve deeper into this aspect later in the week. Today we celebrate what the Lord has done for Israel, for you, and for me.

In the opening verse we read, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. You or I may not have walked out of slavery in Egypt, but we have experience after experience with the Lord’s freeing and saving acts. Time and time again we have been freed from the lures and temptations of this world. Over and over we have been made new again, leaving behind the chains and guilt and shame of our sins, being cleansed by his mercy and grace. Again and again God has reconciled and restored our relationships – sometimes with God, sometimes with one another. We too can joyously approach the Lord our God, thanking God for his goodness and for his love that endures forever. May we, like the Israelites, say, “His love endures forever”!

Prayer: Lord God, over and over… again and again… time after time… Yes, you are so good to me. Yes, your love is amazing. With wonder and awe I praise you and offer my humble thanksgiving. 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.