pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Shout for Joy

Reading: Psalm 98

Verse 1: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things”.

Photo credit: Dan de Almeida

Psalm 98 is a song of praise and worship that includes all of creation. The focus of the praise and worship centers on the gift of salvation – God’s most wonderful, marvelous thing. The Psalm points to the salvation worked by God’s “right hand” – Jesus Christ. Salvation was made known and realized through the life and sacrifice of Jesus. As love and righteousness lived out, the Lord Jesus Christ began the redemption and salvation of all of creation.

Because God’s salvation will culminate in the restoration of all things, creation itself joins in the praise and worship. Beginning in verse seven the sea and everything in it resounds with praise. The rivers “clap”, making a joyful noise as they flow towards the sea. The mountains raise a song of praise too. The earth knows what the salvation of the Lord means for all of the created world: new life!

New life is offered to us as well. The salvation of the Lord restores and renews us day by day as well as opening the way to eternal life in God’s new kingdom. While creation awaits that coming day, we experience salvation daily. The sea, rivers, mountains, and all of creation long for the day when the Lord “will judge the world in righteousness”. As followers of Jesus Christ we do not wait – his mercies are new every morning and his compassion never fails (Lamentations 3: 22-23). For this gift of salvation, for this amazing love, what is our response? May we follow the lead of the psalmist! May we “shout for Joy to the Lord”. May all of creation hear our song of praise today!

Prayer: Lord God, just as the rains have fallen, bringing new life to the creation, so too do your mercies rain down on my life, bringing wholeness. Just as the sun springs forth new life in the created world, so too does your Son bring new life in my heart. May all I say and do today reflect my joy and thanksgiving for your love. Amen.


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Our Salvation

Reading: Acts 4: 11-12

Verse 12: “Salvation is found in no one else”.

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Peter makes a bold proclamation – salvation is through Christ alone. He is remembering the words Jesus himself said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This bold claim asserts that faith in Christ is the only way to eternal life. All other paths end in condemnation. For all of its love and mercy and grace and forgiveness… this is Christianity’s hinge point. “Salvation is found in no one else”.

Belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is essential to gaining eternal life, but the offer of a relationship and of belief is not exclusive. Jesus made it clear in how he lived his life and in his teachings that all who are willing to profess faith in him will be received into his kingdom. Jesus ministered to all, regardless of who or what they were. Prostitutes, adulterers, rebels, thieves on crosses – all were within his love. Jews, men, women, rich, poor, young, old, Samaritan – all were within his love. Did all accept his love? No. Did all enter into a saving relationship? No. Did he call out to all he met? Yes. Does Jesus call out to all people today, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, occupation…? Yes. Do some still reject Jesus as Lord and Savior? Absolutely.

As ones assured of our salvation, how should we respond to the answers to these questions? We should respond as the good shepherd would. Love should lead and guide all we say and think and do. Grace and mercy should abound in our lives. All should see and experience our humble and sacrificial servant’s heart. Everyone should see the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ active within us. May Jesus, our salvation, use each of us to bring others to the gate of the sheep fold.

Prayer: Loving God, use me today as a conduit of your love and grace. In and through me may others see your son, the giver of salvation. Amen.


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Big Plans

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 6: “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.

Isaiah 49 begins with Isaiah’s call. Before he was born God called him. Prophet is his destiny. Isaiah was God’s voice – “a sharpened sword”. He was God’s servant, “in whom I will display my splendor”. He was filled with confidence and felt God with him. And then he experienced what Moses and other prophets experienced – the people were stubborn and willful. Beginning in verse four, we can see that Isaiah hit the proverbial “wall”. He sees no purpose, he feels like he has spent his strength in vain, “for nothing”. God did not leave Isaiah here. We too can feel spent and like we’ve been treading water, getting nowhere. Like Isaiah, we focus back inward, we begin our own pity party.

God does not leave his servant Isaiah here. He will not leave us there either. God’s plans are always greater. His plans so often exceed our vision or dreams. In verse six God says, “It’s too small a thing” to simply have Isaiah help restore Jacob and Israel. No, no. Continuing, God proclaims, “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. Yes, the prophet Isaiah will help lead Israel home, out of exile. But he and his words will also be a part of the salvation of the whole world. God’s plans go far beyond Isaiah and Israel. Ultimately, God’s love and saving grace will extend to the whole world.

Where are you feeling stuck? In what situation do you feel like you’re not having an impact? Our faith is often like Isaiah’s. We question, we doubt, we feel ineffective or adrift. And like with Isaiah, God will use us as a light to the lost and as part of bringing salvation to the broken and hurting. God is faithful. God has big plans for you and for me. We were born to be a child of God. May we step out in faith and trust, knowing that God leads the way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I question, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I doubt, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I fear, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I feel less than, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I am tired and worn, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Fill me, O God, use me for your glory. Amen.


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Marvelous

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

Verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone”.

Have you ever been driving down the road and, as you looked ahead, thought there was water or oil across the road? Or have you ever approached someone, thinking it was a friend, only to have them turn at the last second, revealing the face of a stranger?

Psalm 118 is a song of God’s love for Israel. The psalmist writes of God as helper, refuge, defender. The psalmist rejoices in God’s strength, righteousness, joy, salvation. The Psalm speaks of the blessings of the one who comes in God’s name and of the festive parade when the faithful process to the temple. Is that King David we see in our mind’s eye? Or is that Gideon returning after defeating the Midianites? Or is it Ezra welcoming the exiles back to a rebuilt city and temple? Perhaps that is Jesus coming up the hill on the colt.

In verse 22 we read, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone”. These words do not fit David or Gideon or Ezra or any other king or prophet that rode into Jerusalem. Only one’s “festal parade” would end with him being the sacrifice. The parade, the palms, the celebration of tomorrow is a bit of an illusion too. The cheering crowds of Palm Sunday will soon be the taunting and jeering crowds at week’s end. Many who shout “Hosanna”! and wave palm branches are caught up in the excitement. Soon enough many will reject Jesus Christ, enabling the religious leaders in their quest to be rid of Jesus. There is an illusion here too. They are not eliminating Jesus; they are an essential part of the glory that will be revealed on Easter, on resurrection day. There are many plot twist and turns in the week ahead. Much is not as it seems to appear. The tide rolls along, ever guided by the hand of God.

We begin tomorrow with the celebration, the palms, the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry. Knowing the end of the story allows us to walk with Jesus, knowing the truth of verse 23: “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes”. Yes, Easter is coming. God is in control. Give thanks to the Lord! His love endures forever!

Prayer: God, you are the creator, the one who sets all things in motion. You sent Jesus knowing he’d be rejected and killed. You did so knowing he is the capstone of the kingdom you are building. You sent him to us, knowing what we’d do. Thank you for your great love, O God. Amen.


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The Sovereign Lord

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

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

Today’s passage from Isaiah has many layers to it. Much of the Bible is written in this way. It spoke to the people of Isaiah’s day, it spoke to the people of Jesus’ day, and it speaks to us. Today’s passage is one of four “Servant Songs” – four writings that can be read and meditated upon from the perspectives of Isaiah and Israel as well as from that of Christ and Christianity. For example, the one given the “instructed tongue” and who is “wakened morning by morning” to listen to God was originally Isaiah and his prophetic words were applied to Israel. These same words are connected to Jesus and therefore are applied to Christians past, present, and future.

Prophets have always reminded the faithful of God’s will and ways and have ever called the people back when they have wandered and sinned. Isaiah spoke the word of God to Israel, guiding them out of exile and back into right relationship with God. In turn, the nation of Israel sought to be the “light upon the hill”, revealing God to the peoples living all around them.

Isaiah embodied the idea of a suffering servant. Verse six encapsulates this sacrificial service. Many years later this same verse would be applied to Jesus and the newly forming Christian faith. Like Isaiah, Jesus “offered his back to those who beat me” and he “did not hide my face from mocking and spitting”. Just as Isaiah claimed power and voice in God’s name, so too did Jesus. The words of verse seven apply equally: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

The Servant Songs remain a call to the family of God. The word of God and the teachings of Jesus continue to instruct us, to sustain us, to guide us. As we take in, study, and apply the word we become people of love and justice and mercy and salvation. We begin to take on the role of suffering servant as we minister to a world in need. The more we follow the way of Christ, the more we hear his instructions, the more we awaken day by day with listening ears, the more we offer our back to those who oppress and abuse – the more we draw the kingdom of God near in our own hearts and in the lives of those in our world. The sovereign Lord remains with us. May we ever be his light and love in the world.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for pouring out your word each morning, for wakening my heart to your light and love. In times of suffering may I never waver. May I ever trust in you, knowing that you are working to bring all things together. 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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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.


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Focus

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

Verse 20b: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

In our passage for today, Paul implores us to be reconciled to God. To reconcile means to restore the relationship. Paul is writing to those in the church who have drifted from the faith, to those who have allowed other things to rise above their commitment to the Lord. Unless we are intentional and disciplined concerning our habits of faith, then this can happen to us too. A daily, focused walk with God supplemented by time with the community of faith have always been essential for solid Christian discipleship.

Moving into verses three through seven, Paul shares with the church how he and Timothy have lived out their faith. Note there is both good and bad, both joy and sorrow. Paul and Timothy have endured trials and hardships, persecution, abuse, and slander, as well as sleepless nights. In and through all of this, Paul and Timothy have practiced purity and patience and kindness. They have relied on the Holy Spirit and have sought to practice love above all else. They have always been truthful. Paul wants the church (including us) to know that a walk of faith is not always easy. He also wants to remind us that to walk or live out our faith we must rise above the norms of the world.

As we prepare to enter into Lent, a season of introspection and preparation, it is good to consider how we are walking out our faith. Have we allowed other priorities to rise above our faith commitment? During Lent some people give something up. What in your life could or should you give up to make room for a closer walk with God? Is there a habit or behavior that lessens your walk or your witness? Some people add a habit or practice during Lent. Some join a Lenten study, some read a book that enriches their faith. Some fast, finding new time to pray or to read their Bibles. And some do both – giving something up, adding something in. The point is to reflect on your current walk with Jesus and to find a way to deepen that walk with the Lord during this holy season.

In the last few verses of our passage Paul shares the beauty of a faithful walk. God has sustained he and Timothy in times of need, guiding them through the trials and hardships. Because of the presence of Jesus Christ in their daily lives they are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. Paul and Timothy have their eye on God’s goodness and on the salvation of their souls. As we prepare to enter this holy season of Lent may this be our focus as well.

Prayer: Lord God, prepare me to journey deeper with you during this season of Lent. Guide me to walk closer and more intimately. Show me the way. Reveal the path to walk. Amen.


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Step Out

Reading: Psalm 62: 5-8

Verse 6: “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken”.

At youth events over the past years we have asked the youth to do a trust fall. The youth stands on a table or platform, closes their eyes, folds their arms across their chest, holds their body rigid, and then falls backwards. They are trusting that the eight or so youth lined up behind them will catch them in their arms. The process is usually the hardest for the one who goes first. For every person, though, there comes a moment, just before they intentionally fall backwards, in which they must decide to trust that the group will catch them.

David is the author of today’s Psalm. He has been on enough “trust falls” to have come to this place of confidence and trust in God. Our section begins with these words: “Find rest, o my soul, in God alone”. David is assured of God’s presence and of his place in God’s kingdom. Each time that David was asked to step out in faith, God has been there. God has been steadfast and true – David knows that he can rest in God. In the next verse David writes, “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken”. For David, there is no other – no other foundation, no other redeemer, no other protector. He trusts in God alone.

You and I will be asked to step out in faith as we continue to journey with Christ. Sometimes it is like a trust fall – we cannot see where we are going and we must trust in God as we leave the safety and security of our safe place. It can initially feel like a free fall as we cannot sense the way that God is leading. As we learn to trust, as we step out in faith, we come to know the assurance that pours out of David’s words in Psalm 62.

In verse eight we hear these words of encouragement: “Trust in him at all times, O people”. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Leading God, give me the courage to go where you lead, to answer the call each time the Spirit whispers or nudges me. Use me as you will, O God. Amen.


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This Child

Reading: Luke 2: 22-36

Verse 34: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many… so the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed”.

The day after Mary and Joseph complete the purification ritual they bring Jesus to the temple to dedicate and redeem him. Mary and Joseph are devout people, following the law according to Moses. Each firstborn son is to be consecrated or given to God. The law also provided a way for a family to keep their son. A poor couple like Mary and Joseph would need Jesus to work in the small family business. They offered the normal gift – two birds – to redeem their son. Having completed the ritual, Mary and Joseph were ready to return to Nazareth. But something extraordinary happens first. Mary and Joseph meet Simeon and Anna, two people closely connected to God.

Simeon and Anna have been waiting to see the one who will bring salvation and redemption. God had revealed to Simeon that he would see “the Lord’s consolation” before he died. This day the Spirit leads Simeon to the temple and to Mary and Joseph. He proclaims, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many… so the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed”. Jesus will be both salvation and a stumbling block, connecting with some hearts, hardening others. Simeon also forewarns Mary of the “sword” that will one day “pierce her own soul too” as she stands at the foot of the cross. And then Anna, an old prophetess who spends all her time in the temple, thanks God for seeing Jesus and tells Mary and Joseph that their child will be the redemption of Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph take in God’s plans for their newborn son. Returning home, we read that Jesus grew up and was filled with wisdom and that God’s grace was upon him.

As we reflect on the one who came, comes, and will come to offer salvation and redemption to all things, where is it that we need to feel his loving touch and his healing mercies on this quiet day after the Christmas celebration? The light remains in the world and in our hearts.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gift of the one who saves and redeems. Help me to walk daily with Jesus, bringing light and love into the world. Amen.