pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Live Humbly

Reading: Luke 18:13-14

Verse 13: “But the tax collector stood at a distance… beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'”

Today we focus on the second of the two men who “went up to the temple to pray.” In the opening verse we read that the tax collector “stood at a distance” and that he “would not even look up to heaven.” We learn also that he “beat his breast.” All of these are signs of one who knows that he needs God. He is one who is humble before the Lord God. The tax collector recognizes that he is far short of the glory of God. He enters the temple knowing that God can grant him mercy, but not quite sure that God will.

Have you ever come before God in this way? At times I’ve known in my head that God is love and mercy, grace and forgiveness. But, because of what I’ve done or failed to do, in my heart I’ve wondered if God can forgive even this. Maybe this is what it is for the tax collector or maybe it has been a long time since he has come to God. Whatever the case, he cries out to God: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” What a humble and sincere heart.

The parable finishes with these words from Jesus: “I tell you that this man went home justified before God.” The tax collector was made right by God through his honest and humble confession. Continuing Jesus drives home his point to those who were “confident in their own righteousness” saying, “For everyone who exalts themselves will be humbled, but they who humble themselves will be exalted.” May we come humbly before God and may we live humbly with all of our neighbors.

Prayer: Lord God, have mercy on me too, a sinner. Restore me to wholeness once again. Lead and guide me to think less of self so that I can love you and neighbor more and more. Amen.


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Greater, Stronger

Reading: Joel 2:28-32

Verses 28 and 32: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Continuing in Joel 2 today we see again that the text is the promise of a better day for Israel. It speaks of a day yet to come for God’s people. Yet for us, it is a day and time that has come in some ways. These promises of “one day” are a reality for our day today.

In verses 28-29 God promises to “pour out my Spirit on all people.” With this Spirit, all of God’s people will dream dreams and see visions. To me this has happened in two ways. First, God took on flesh and revealed the spirit of God to humanity. In and through Jesus we have an example of God’s love, grace, and mercy lived out in human form. In Jesus’ words and teachings he cast the vision and shared God’s dream for a kingdom here on earth. And then, on the day of Pentecost, God came again in the form of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus had promised, God in the flesh became God in the Spirit, dwelling in the hearts of all who called on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This second revelation of Christ comes in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Then verses 30 and 31 speak of the day when Christ will return in glory to achieve the final victory. This third revelation of Christ will be both a “great and dreadful day.” In verse 32 we read, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But not all will call on the name of the Lord. Some will rely on self and on the things of this world. This day will be dreadful for them. Only the faithful – those whose faith declares Jesus as Lord and Savior – only they will be delivered to glory.

Yesterday we read of the wrath of God, that which brought locusts and led to exile for Israel. We too live under God’s wrath. We experience hardship and suffering and separation when we choose to live in sin. But God’s love is greater than God’s wrath. God’s love is stronger than our sin. In grace God seeks to rescue us. In mercy God seeks to restore us back into right relationship. There, deliverance is ours. May we all call on the name of the Lord, the God who saves. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you remind me today that the power of your love far exceeds my ability to sin. So your grace can always wash away my sin. You remind me that the depth of your mercy far surpasses the brokenness of my humanity. So your mercy ever calls me back to you, restoring me to right relationship with you. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Only Then

Reading: Psalm 80:1-2 and 8-19

Verse 2: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Psalm 80 is a plea to God. The psalmist observes an invasion and the sure defeat of a close neighbor. The wave sweeping across the known world is now knocking on Judah’s doorstep. Judah – the two southern tribes – have watched with horror as Israel – the ten northern tribes – have been destroyed by the mighty Assyrians. This reality is the source of Asaph’s plea: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Turning to verse 8, the psalmist reminds God of their history together. God brought them out of Egypt. God cleared the nations and the ground, providing the Promised Land for the Israelites. God protected them and they prospered – growing from the mighty river to the great sea. I’m not sure, though, who Asaph is trying to remind more here: God or Judah? Remember all that God has done for us! Or… God, remember all you’ve done for Judah.

At times we can play this game. At least I do. When difficulty or trial loons, I’ve reminded God of all that God’s done, thinking maybe God will intervene on my behalf. Yet sometimes I need to walk the valley. Sometimes God has some pruning to do. And that begins with surrender.

Judah looks at what has befallen Israel and hopes to avoid a similar fate. Asaph asks God, “Why have you…?” He then quickly shifts to bartering. Verse 17 is the “if you will, God” and verse 18 is the “then we will” parts. This too is familiar ground, isn’t it?

The trouble for Judah is, I believe, they have it backwards. Just as with the plea in verse 2, they expect God to just act. But we must be the first to be faithful, often confessing and repenting our sins, seeking to walk in a right relationship with God. Only then will God hear our prayers.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me in a faithful walk with you day by day. Lead me to always look within and then to root out what I do and say and think that separates me from you. Strengthen me to prepare my heart and soul so that I can stand before you in prayer. Thank you, O Lord. Amen.


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Called

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-20

Verses 16-17: “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!”

Photo credit: Sophie Walker

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God calls out the people of Judah. In verse 10 God refers to the leaders of Judah as “rulers of Sodom” and to the people as “people of Gomorrah.” These were 2 evil-filled cities that God rained down fire and sulphur upon, destroying them completely. When God’s people thought of depravity and greed, these 2 cities would come to mind. To be compared to Sodom and Gomorrah – things must’ve been pretty bad in Judah.

In verse 11 we see that the people are still bringing sacrifices to the altar of God. But God is not pleased by them. These rote rituals are simply a “trampling of my courts.” This creates a vision of them rushing in, getting the deed done quickly, and rushing back out. God decries, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” Their hearts are far from God; their “hands are full of blood.”

God says to the children, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!” Stop sinning. Learn once again to do good in the world. We see God’s suggestions for doing good in verse 17: seek justice, encourage those who are oppressed, defend the orphans, stand with the widows. These words call out to us today as well. We live in a hurting and broken world. Our question is this: where is God calling us to do good?

Each of us has been called to be a part of the healing of the world. As followers of Christ we are charged with making disciples and with transforming the world. These two go hand in hand. As we seek to partner with God, working to bring about a more just and loving world, we are striving to build the kingdom of God here “on earth as it is in heaven.” May these words not just be a rote ritual that we say each Sunday morning.

Where is God calling you? Where can you be a part of healing this hurting and broken world? Through the power of the Holy Spirit may God use each of us today, according to God’s will.

Prayer: Lord God, where does the world’s brokenness meet my passions? Where does the hurting meet my hope? Where do you need me today? O God, lead me to serve you and your children. Use me as you will today. Amen.


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Rejoice

Reading: Romans 5:1-2

Verse 2: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

‘Peace and Joy’ is the title of the first section in Romans 5. In chapter 4 Paul has worked the path from Abraham being “credited as righteous” by God to Jesus’ followers being justified (or made right) through his death and resurrection. This is the basis for Paul’s opening statement in chapter 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our sins no longer separate us from God. We have peace with God because Jesus’ work has paid the price and made atonement for our sins.

Continuing on in verse 2 we read that it is our faith that gives us access to the grace we find in Jesus. To make the choice to believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, that opens the door for his grace to actively work in our lives. Before choosing Christ, grace is at work. It is that sense of right and wrong, that feeling that we should forgive others, that little nudge in this direction or that. Recognizing these things as God at work in our lives, we are drawn towards relationship, towards inviting Jesus into our hearts. Choosing faith, we become an active partner with grace. Through grace we are drawn to be like Christ. Practicing his love and mercy, his servant’s heart, and his compassion for the lost, we enter into justification. The Spirit works in us, refining and reshaping and renewing us, helping us to become more and more like Christ.

As we live out this life of faith we begin to experience peace and joy more and more. Living this life of faith, we, like Paul, “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Peace and joy in our heart leads to hope in the glory of God that will be fully revealed when we see Christ face to face. Until that day grace draws us closer and closer to the image of Christ. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoice in the ways that you drew me into relationship long ago. Your love and kindness, your mercy and grace – they were water for my thirsty soul. I rejoice too in the work you have done in me and I ask you to continue refining and reshaping me day by day, drawing me deeper into your renewing love, guiding me closer and closer to experiencing your glory here on earth. Amen.


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Come and Follow

Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

Verse 7: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

In today’s passage from Isaiah we meet the “suffering servant.” These words apply to the author, Isaiah. Like yesterday’s Psalm 118, we can also read these words and hear and interpret and apply them to Jesus Christ. He was also a suffering servant. Today we are also invited to own these words, to take this mantle upon ourselves.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “The sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” God spoke to Isaiah, guiding his life and his words. God has given us the Bible. God has backed that up with the Holy Spirit. God offers us instruction and guidance. God gives us words to follow and words to speak to the weary, the exiled, the downtrodden, the hurting. Will we know and speak the word God gives us?

In verse 7 we read, “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.” First, note that it does not say “will not suffer.” The will and way of God is always good and right and holy. Because of this we will not be disgraced when we live and speak in alignment with God’s will and way. But because the will and way of the world is opposed to God’s will and way, we will face suffering and maybe persecution. Jesus invites us to walk the road he walked. In our divided and controversy filled would, leading with love and offering humble service can draw other’s ire.

Lastly, in verse 9 we read, “It is the sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that condemns me?” We can answer this question one of two ways. The easy way is to say, “No one!” If God is for us, who can be against us, right? Well, yes. But…

Is this how Jesus would answer the question? I believe that Jesus would say that he (or she) that condemns us is the one that we should love even more. They are the one we should seek to serve in even more meaningful ways. Jesus’ road was the road of the suffering servant – it was not an easy road. We are invited to come and follow Jesus. May we choose to walk the road of love and service, no matter the cost.

Prayer: Lord God, set my feet upon the path that Jesus walked. Instruct me by your word, guide and empower me by your Holy Spirit. 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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Justice, Equity, Righteousness

Reading: Psalm 99:1-5

Verse 4: “The King is mighty, he loves justice… equity.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Psalm 99 is a song of God’s faithfulness, holiness, and justice. It calls us to worship God and it reminds us of God’s actions on behalf of the people of God. The psalmist opens with, “The Lord reigns.” For all who believe, this remains true. As the Psalm continues we read, “Great is the Lord in Zion.” At the time, that meant Israel, where God’s “chosen people,” the Jews, lived. Today “Zion” is many places. It is everywhere and anywhere that those who love and worship God are found.

In verse four we read, “The King is mighty, he loves justice… equity.” The psalmist continues in this same verse, noting that God has done “what is just and right.” The heart of God has always been bent towards justice and to equity, to what is right. Today ‘right’ seems to be a subjective term in many ways and places. But in God’s kingdom it is living according to God’s ways as defined and exemplified in the Bible. To me, this way of living is best exemplified and modeled by Jesus.

God in Jesus has a heart for those experiencing injustice, inequality, marginalization… Over and over Jesus was drawn to these people and situations and those experiencing these unrighteous things were drawn to Jesus. He saw their plight, their struggle, their suffering and he offered healing, wholeness, life in community… Jesus loved them as they were and sought to restore and redeem them and/or their situation.

God remains the God of justice, equity, righteousness… As God’s hand and feet and voice in this world, we are called to see and be drawn to the lives and places where these things are missing, lacking, inadequate. In love, may we walk with and minister to these, bringing God’s restoration, healing, and wholeness. May it be so.

Prayer: O God of all people, lead me to live and love as Jesus did, with a heart for the vulnerable and the hurting. In all I say and do and think, use me to build the kingdom that you desire here on earth. Amen.


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God’s Peace

Reading: Philippians 4: 5-7

Verse 7: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Photo credit: Ben White

Continuing in Philippians 4 today Paul first encourages us to let our gentleness shine out to all people. Being gentle is a way of being in the world that is noticeably different. The ways of the world are often aggressive, taking, toxic. Being gentle involves empathy, patience, consideration for the other. Being gentle exudes love.

Next Paul instructs us to take all things to God in prayer. He says don’t pause and be anxious first. Take it to God right away. Do not wait until after we’ve tried every solution or answer that we can. Take it to God in prayer right away. And don’t begin by unloading the problem or concern. Don’t just vent to God. Begin with thanksgiving. Start by reminding yourself of all that God has done – rejoice in that. With a heart and mind in the right place bring all the rest to God.

This short passage closes with the “why” – “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” It is something we do not understand. The burdens, the fears, the worries – the weight of that prayer focus – it suddenly feels lighter if not altogether gone. That is what passes our understanding. When we turn it over to God in prayer, God takes the weight off of us. This opens the door for us to trust more deeply in God. There God’s peace guards our hearts and minds. Thanks be to God for the peace that comes through steadfast prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to just rush on today, slow me down, help me to be kind and gentle with all I meet. Build up my prayer life – I want it to be my first response, my first option. In that place may your peace and love wash over me. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Good and Evil

Reading: Psalm 14

Verse 5: “God is present in the company of the righteous”.

Photo credit: Tech Nick

Today’s Psalm is attributed to David. It speaks of the evil and corruption in the world. They seem to be in control. Yet over and throughout it all is God. Connecting to yesterday’s passage from 2nd Samuel 11, could David be reflecting upon his own behavior as he writes these words? In his secret heart could he be hoping that God is with Bathsheba?

The Psalm opens recognizing that the fool says, “There is no God”. The fool says I can do whatever I want – I am god! The fool is corrupt and vile. Didn’t someone ask if that wasn’t Uriah’s wife? In verse four David acknowledges that evildoers “devour” God’s people “as men eat bread”. Sexual appetites can certainly devour others like common food. A most powerful man can have his way and then dismiss his victim like she was a common peasant.

And yet David knows in his heart of hearts that God is bigger than the evil of the world and the evil inside of him. In verses five and six he writes, “God is present in the company of the righteous” and “the Lord is their refuge”. Even though evil has been done, David hopes that God is present to and comforting Bathsheba. Yes, the Lord draws near to all who are abused and oppressed, to all who endure injustice and violence.

The part of David still connected to God can still long for salvation to come to Israel. He can still long for a better world even though his ‘secret’ actions work against it. I too have been here before – doing wrong in the present yet still hoping for God to make me right in the end. Even then God is our ever present refuge. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I must admit that I, like David, am never too far from sin. The fleshy part of me is ever seeking glory or power or possessions. Yet the divine within me is always drawn to you. Thank you for the Spirit within. Raise up that voice in my heart, O Lord. Amen.