pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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More Open, More Accessible

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 31: “God exalted him… that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.”

As we begin in Acts 5 today we focus on Jesus’ gifts of repentance and forgiveness. This was the primary conflict point between Jesus and the religious leaders. To the Jews, forgiveness came through the priests, the temple, the sacrificial system. It has been that way since Moses led the people on the 40 year wander. To the Israelites it feels like this has been the way back to God for, well, forever. It is practically all they’ve ever known. The rituals, the sacrifice, the role of priests – it was all threatened by Jesus and now is being challenged by his followers. The apostles were teaching and preaching about repentance and forgiveness and they were healing and forgiving sins in Jesus’ name.

There has always been and definitely remains a personal aspect to repentance and forgiveness. In Protestant denominations these are things we practice on a daily (or more frequent) basis. While we remember and celebrate Holy Communion, we believe that we can repent and receive forgiveness anytime, anywhere, on our own. The shift away from priests and the temple and the whole sacrificial system was a seismic shift in Jesus’ day and in the years to follow. This radical change to a more open and accessible church created great tension with the powers that be – enough to kill Jesus, enough to persecute and eventually martyr many who would follow Jesus.

How does the church today maintain this spirit? How do we as Christians stand up to keep the church open and accessible? How do the powers that be seek to work against these things? In many ways this is our charge to resist and oppose evil and injustice in the world. It is our call to stand with the widows and orphans, with all who are marginalized or oppressed by our culture, society, and even the larger church. It is therefore also our call to continue to move the church forward, ever drawing the circle wider, ever making the church more open and more accessible. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be one who opens the door just a bit wider, who makes welcome just a bit more real. Empower me to do this again tomorrow and again the days after. Give me eyes and heart to see and connect to all of your beloved children. Amen.


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Acceptable?

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-5

Verse 2: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”.

Isaiah 58 starts with a pronouncement from God. In verse one God encourages Isaiah to “shout it aloud. Do not hold back”. Proclaim it from the rooftops! The message is something God wants all the people of Judah to hear. Getting right to the point, God declares the rebellion of the people, laying their sins before them. In verse two we get a hint at the heart of the problem: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”. In these phrases, the key word is “seem”. On the surface the people of Judah appear to be seeking God. In verse three the people try to defend themselves, asking why God did not notice their fasting. There is a reason.

Yesterday in church we celebrated communion. At our church we offer communion on the first Sunday of each month. In the words before coming forward there was a prayer and a time to lay our sins before the Lord, inviting us to offer repentance along with confession. Everyone in church took communion. Did all take the opportunity to search their hearts and to make a humble and sincere confession of their sins? Did all humbly desire to repent and go forth walking a more holy life? In an ideal world the answers to these questions would be yes and yes! But maybe someone was thinking instead about the Super Bowl snacks that lay ahead or about which commercial would be their favorite. Maybe someone thought they had no sins to confess. If anyone came and took communion in these or similar mindsets, they were practicing a ritual not participating in a sacrament.

The people of Judah were going through the motions of fasting. Yes, they were abstaining from food. But that is as far as their fast went. They were exploiting their workers. They were quarreling and fighting amongst themselves. The ritual of fasting was not changing their sinful ways. Their ritual fasting was not changing their hearts or helping them to be holy. A fast, when celebrated properly, works to draw one closer to God and deeper into walking in God’s ways. Communion should have the same affect. The same can be said of prayer, worship, Bible study, meditation, practicing Sabbath…

Our section for today ends with this question: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord”? Tough question. Reflect on yesterday for a minute or two. Would God ask this question of any part of your day set aside for God?

Prayer: Lord God, it is a bit disconcerting to think about when I just go through the motions instead of choosing to be fully present with you or others. Strip away my busyness, my selfishness, my distractions, my half-hearted efforts. Just as you are fully present with me, may I be so to you and to those you place before me today. Amen.


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Love and Grace

Reading: Philippians 3: 1-12

Verse 8: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”.

The title for today’s passage in my Bible is “No Confidence in the Flesh”. It is a good reminder. In verses four through six Paul reminds us of how we can trust in the old and in the things of this world. We may not connect circumcision or our tribe or our nation as sources of confidence. But we can count our position or title or status as things we place our confidence in. We may claim the tag “Christian” instead of Pharisee and we may go about persecuting all who don’t see or interpret things just as we do. Some even see their confidence in the two areas as just cause for their legalistic righteousness that is far from the love and grace that Jesus exemplifies. Paul sees this in his former life as Saul.

In verse seven there is a shift. All of this earthly confidence Paul now considers a loss for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ. He goes on to explain in the next verse, saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”. Paul willingly laid aside the titles… in exchange for coming to know the Savior. He calls all that earthly stuff “rubbish” as is willing to throw all that away so that he may “gain Christ”. It amazes me what a little encounter with Jesus did for and to Paul’s life. All that he had grown up knowing and believing and living – holding this above all else – was rubbish once he knew the love and grace of Christ. Today some continue to live out the law without knowing Christ. Some even live with the Christian tag and live a life that does not bear witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Instead of an earthly, human righteousness based upon the law and strict adherence to the rituals and practices, Paul has found a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus. It is not the high and mighty righteousness negatively associated with the super religious. It is a righteousness based partly on the resurrection of Jesus. It is also based on the love and grace that comes by “sharing in his sufferings”. In losing all the earthly trappings, through the grace he himself experienced in Christ, Paul was left with a love for Jesus and for all who did not know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We too can know this love and grace. Like Paul, may we know Christ crucified and risen. And may we share Christ with all we meet, seeking to work out our mandate to make disciples of all nations and peoples. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, at times I can be a bit like Saul – feeling good about my titles or position or religion. When I do, bring me face to face with the sufferings of Jesus, made real in the realities of a hurting and broken world. There, fill me with only grace and love, that I may represent you well in the world. Amen.


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The Price Is Paid

Reading: Hebrews 10: 11-18

Verse 14: “By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”.

Rituals and traditions are important. We like being creatures of habit. More than once I have driven to work and, as I pulled into the parking lot, wondered, ‘How did I get here’? I could not recall passing that building or stopping at that traffic light. It felt Twilight Zone-ish. Have you ever begun, “Our Father who art in heaven…” and suddenly found yourself at “Amen”, wondering how you got there?

Day after day after day the priests offered sacrifices for the same sins. Day after day after day, same atonements for the same log of sins. It did not seem as if the behaviors or the attitudes were changing. Maybe the sins changed for some as the believers became more devout, but the sin remained. The blood of the cow or sheep or dove did not erase the guilt or the shame or the sin. Day after day the sacrifices continued. Do you suppose people showed up week after week after week with a lamb, wondering how they got there?

And then came Jesus. God in the flesh changed everything. Jesus offered Himself as the perfect final sacrifice. “By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”. Jesus died for each of us, we who are sinners, once for all. On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished”. He died once for all. Jesus’ blood atones for our sin and washes it away, making us perfect as we are ever made more holy. Through the power and constant presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus walks with us, sanctifying us, making us more and more like Christ. Yes, we will sin again. But His mercies make us new again each time we repent, each time transforming us, making us more like Jesus. This is not a ritual. It is personal. Each and every time.

Our passage reminds us that God will “remember no more” our sins. They are washed away in the blood. Because our sins are forgiven and forgotten through Jesus Christ, we can freely and boldly approach God without hesitation. We are free to come to God all the time because we can be made holy at any and at all times. Jesus has opened the door and He stands in the doorway beckoning us to come in. Forever. Verse 18 reads, “Where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin”. The price has been paid. Thank you Jesus.

Prayer: Praise be to the Father and to the Son! Thank you God for loving me enough to send your Son for me. Thank you Jesus, for your perfect witness, for your sacrifice for a sinner like me. Thank you for the cross. Amen.


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A Clean Heart

Reading: Mark 7: 14-16 & 21-23

Verses 15-16: “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”.

As far back as the beginning, God has looked at humanity differently than we look at ourselves. God chose people like Abel, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Esther, David, Mary, Peter, Paul… not because they were the most beautiful or the strongest or the most intelligent. He chose them because of the stuff on the inside – the stuff that is hard for us to see. Sometimes we struggle with this idea. Sometimes we cannot look past the outside.

All groups have rules that govern the group, their behavior, who can be a part of the group… The ritual cleansing laws were just one of many law that kept the Jews separate from the peoples around them. Identity was important. As the chosen people, standards had to be kept. When the religious leaders saw Jesus’ disciples – who were all Jews – not following the rules, they questioned Jesus about it.

In our passage today, Jesus returns to God’s practice of being concerned with what is on the inside, not on the outside. Jesus responds to the leaders by saying, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”. This makes perfect sense. But it disrupts the status quo. But it makes sense. Eating with unclean hands does not make one more or less likely to sin. Drinking coffee instead of tea does not increase or decrease one’s ability to resist temptation. In verse 17, Jesus points out that whatever we eat or drink “doesn’t go into the heart but into the stomach”. Temptation and sin reside in the heart.

Jesus goes on to share quite a list of evils that can be found in the heart. When we allow our thoughts to turn to and to dwell on theft or murder or lust or envy or arrogance or pride or… then evil will surely come out, making us ‘unclean’. The battle to remain ‘clean’ is a fight in the heart. It is a battle that we must have help in if we are to remain in a right relationship with our Lord and Savior.

This day, O Lord, give me a clean heart and a right spirit. Purge all within that is impure. May the power of the Holy Spirit be quick to convict when evil thoughts begin to arise. And may I be responsive to the conviction, repenting quickly. May I honor you, O Lord, in all I do and say and think today. Amen.


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Undignified

Reading: 2 Samuel 6: 12b-19

Verse Fourteen: “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might”.

Today’s passage gives us two sides of worship. On the one hand we see some rituals being practiced. On the other hand we see unabashed and heart-led worship. Both “styles” or forms still have a vital place in our worship of God.

David uses rituals to worship God in several ways. After six steps are taken, David stops the procession. The priests and Levites sit down the ark and a sacrifice is offered as a thanks to God. The calf and bull are a way of thanking God for blessing them with the ark and its return to Jerusalem. The procession also ends with the proper sacrifices. David’s choice of attire is also ritualistic. The linen ephod is a religious garment. David chose to take off his royal robes and to don a garment worn in service to the Lord. In this choice he is telling all that he too will serve and honor God. The ceremony ends with blessings. David blesses the people in God’s name and also blesses them with gifts of food. Although our rituals might be different, we too have our worship traditions and practices. Our sacraments, liturgies, creeds, and other traditions help us to worship God.

David and the people also spontaneously worship God from the heart. “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might”. He worships with reckless abandon before God. He worships with all his might. In our churches we might clap during a praise song. We might raise our hands toward heaven. In some churches we still dance before the Lord. As David dances with all his might, the people celebrate and worship with shouts and trumpets and other forms of music. There is joy in their worship. We too use music in our worship and maybe even lift up an unscripted shout or “Amen” once in a while too.

This passage always reminds me of a song. It is called “Undignified” and the verse simply reads, “I will dance, I will sing, to be mad for my King. Nothing Lord is hindering this passion in my soul”. This song is a good reminder that we should not allow anything to inhibit our worship of God. The chorus shouts, “And I will become even more undignified than this. Some may say it’s foolishness, but I’ll become even more undignified than this. Lay my pride by my side, and I’ll become even more undignified than this”. Today, Lord, may we lay aside our pride and unashamedly live out our gospel faith, worshipping you fully in all we do and say today. Amen.