pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Sabbath

Reading: John 6: 14-15

Verse 15: “Jesus… withdrew again to a mountain by himself”.

Photo credit: David Marcu

In today’s short passage – two verses – we see the world causing Jesus to withdraw. After feeding the 5,000 the people realize the power of Jesus and some are thinking of trying to make him king. Jesus’ power is not for political/military purposes. So Jesus distances himself from the crowd to diffuse the situation. He creates some time of Sabbath – holy and sacred time to connect to God, to find renewal and rest.

It is no coincidence that I read these verses today. Tomorrow I begin a week long retreat that focuses on Sabbath and on caring well for the whole self – physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, and relational. The conference that I am in offers the retreat to pastors once every eight years. My cohort group has been meeting once a month via Zoom to learn more about Sabbath and to get to know one another a little before we spend a week together at a local monestary.

I, probably like many of you, am a bit driven and performance oriented. I don’t sit still well. It is the way of our culture, of our world. Today’s passage reminds us that at times we must withdraw or unplug from the things of this world in order to recenter ourselves on the things of God. Jesus carved out some time to draw close to God, to be renewed by God’s love. May we each do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, on the edge of these days set apart I so look forward to time alone with you and to learning more about caring well for my whole self. I am so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Choose Glory

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verses 11-12: “In him we were also chosen… in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

As we continue in Ephesians 1 today Paul begins by stating, “In him we were also chosen”. Other translations say “made heirs”. Paul is reinforcing the idea that we are adopted, made part of the family of God. Although we are created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with God, there still must be a choice made on our behalf. Because of how and why we were created, we have an innate sense of God, a natural desire to connect to God. Yet we still must make an intentional choice to live into and in that relationship.

Paul provides the argument for why the Ephesians (and us) should make that choice. In verse twelve we read, “in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”. Choosing to live in relationship with God, we bring God the glory. The focus shifts from bringing self glory to bringing God glory. Instead of focusing on the things that falsely elevate self (titles, possessions, popularity…), we focus instead on things that bring God the glory (compassion, kindness, service, generosity…).

Paul also emphasizes that the challenge of living for God’s glory comes with assistance. When we believe, when we choose to enter into relationship with God, we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. The continuing presence that Jesus Christ promised becomes a part of us, guiding us, leading us, redirecting us. Again, all of this is for “the praise of his glory”.

We are chosen. We are adopted. We are marked with a seal. We are part of God’s family, redeemed and forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you created every single one of us. You created us to be in relationship with you. Use me today to help those on the outside realize the place you have for them. Amen.


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Faithful Love, Great Redemption

Reading: Psalm 130: 3-8

Verse 7: “Wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As we began yesterday in Psalm 130, we looked at God’s response to our supplications. We do like God to respond quickly! Today the Psalm shifts by first pondering what it would be like if God “kept track of sins”. I know that heaven will be glorious and amazing and far beyond all of my imagination. But is it big enough to house that much record keeping? It is a short ponder. In verse four we are reminded, “forgiveness is with you”. God doesn’t keep track of our sins.

What then prevents us (and others) from taking our prayers for forgiveness to God? What causes us to hold onto our sin and the shame that often accompanies it? Sometimes, honestly, we are enjoying our sin and aren’t quite ready to give it up. It’s hard to sincerely ask for forgiveness when we’re planning to continue sinning and when we’re not repentant. Sometimes even when we are ready to die to self and to allow that sin to pass, still we are unable to bring it to God. We feel too unworthy or we feel God too holy to enter his presence. We think God cannot forgive the great sin we’ve committed. And then some of us have a hard time admitting when we’re wrong, so humility is also required.

Whatever is holding us back, whatever is keeping us from God’s salvation is within us. God never withholds or keeps his love from us. In those moments, may we remember these words and emotions of the psalmist: “My whole being hopes… waits for God’s promise”. Sometimes we need to remember that God’s love is unconditional, his promises are unending. These truths will draw us back towards right relationship with God. Remembering this we offer our repentance and receive pardon. This is ever true because “faithful love is with the Lord… great redemption is with our God”. Thanks be to God for his great grace and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, I know you do not keep track of my sins and I am so thankful. The imperfect being that I am recognizes my need for your grace and love, for your mercy and forgiveness. Thank you for creating me to be in relationship with you and for ever drawing me back into that relationship. Your love is amazing! Amen.


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Walking Humbly

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 6: “Though the Lord is on high he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar”.

Photo credit: Ben White

Returning to Psalm 138 today we are reminded that our relationship with God is built primarily upon God’s love and faithfulness. The Psalm opens with praise to God and expresses joy because God hears and answers prayer. Both of these things have led to growth in the psalmist’s faith. Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving are essential parts and building blocks of our faith as well.

Continuing today, we read these words in verse six: “Though the Lord is on high he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar”. The psalmist recognizes that God is divine, almighty, above humanity. There is a humility, a lowliness, necessary to truly praise, worship, and thank God for the many ways that he blesses and elevates our lives. To follow David’s pattern, to take time daily to thank God for the ways that he touches our lives daily, specifically and intentionally, keeps us grounded in the reality that without God this would be a very different existence. This practice keeps us humble; it prevents us from thinking more of ourselves and our abilities than we should.

The proud do only know God from afar. Their achievements, whether athletic, financial, social… are their own doing. Time or need for God seems unnecessary. They are their own ‘gods’. How different from David’s words in our Psalm, how different from the example set by Jesus!

The Psalm draws near to a close with a request for God to “fulfill his purpose for me”. This is a prayer that looks beyond self. It is another recognition that we are created to glorify God, not ourselves. The Psalm closes with another reminder of God’s enduring love and with a request to remain connected to God and his plan for our lives. May this be our prayer today as we seek to walk humbly and faithfully with the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord of all, yes you are on high but your Spirit walks daily with those who love you and look to you for meaning and purpose in this life. Please continue to guide and lead me each day, drawing me deeper and deeper into your love. Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 14: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Chapter 8 in Romans is all about the new life we find in Christ. Paul begins the chapter by speaking of the freedom from sin found in and through Christ. He talks of the Holy Spirit’s power that leads us to live not in sin but in righteousness. As our verses begin today, Paul writes of our “obligation” to live according to the way of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the word ‘obligation’ rubs us the wrong way. It can imply something we have to do not something we want to do. Paul is connecting back to what he shared in verse three – that God sent Jesus as a “sin offering” for those who were powerless against sin – for us! To live for the desires and pleasures of the flesh would fly in the face of Jesus’ offering for us. So Paul urges us, obliges us, to live by the Spirit of God.

In verse fourteen Paul writes, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. When we live by or allow the Holy Spirit within to guide us, then we are living as a child of God. This is a great place to be. Yet many people choose to live as a child of the world. The lures of money and power and status, as well as the pleasures of the flesh, are powerful draws to our human, worldly selves. It can feel “good” to accumulate and enjoy these things. Yet when we live unto ourselves we focus only inward, lessening even our most important relationships. Our sense of belonging and our sense of worth become connected to how we “feel”, which is connected to superficial, shallow, temporary things. It is a fragile place to live.

When we choose to live by the Spirit, by the way of Christ, we find a different source of joy, contentment, peace. Our relationships are not guided by self but by the love of Jesus Christ welling up inside of us. Self fades away as love of God and neighbor becomes our purpose, our source of meaning and worth. Living as a child of God, as a part of the body of Christ, we find eternal belonging. Knowing we are loved forever by our Lord, we can go forth into the world to live out that love, drawing others toward their place in the family of God. May it be so for you and for me today.

Prayer: Lord God, your family is beautiful, generous, loving. Thank you for making space for me in your family. When I am not these things, lift up the voice of the Holy Spirit within me, drawing me back into the depth of your love. Amen.


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Both… And

Reading: John 3: 19-21

Verse 19: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness”.

Today’s verses from John 3 speak of light and darkness. John uses the analogy that has been used since the creation story found in Genesis 1. From the dark and chaotic God brought forth light and called it “good”. Since the beginning, light has stood for God and goodness, dark for Satan and evil. Often in scripture this tension is represented as an either/or proposition. Our reality is that it is both/and.

In verse nineteen John writes, “This is the verdict”. There is an implied choice here. Choices have been weighed on a balance. John observes that men prefer the darkness. Humanity is by nature selfish, concerned with success and pleasure. If left without God it is hard to imagine what the world and humanity would degenerate into. We are not left without God. At the very minimum, all are born with the spark of the divine within. In some folks that is snuffed out and in others it us pushed so far down that it appears to be non-existent. In most of humanity the light of God remains present. And in most of us, the light of God is ever competing with the darkness of the world. This is the both/and reality that Christians live in.

In the season of Lent we are invited to look within, to see and root out the darkness in our hearts and in our lives. We are called to bring the sinful or evil parts into the light. There we see ourselves as we truly are. Depending on where we are on the light-darkness spectrum we either drag them into Christ’s presence and we seek to die to self or we quietly slide that part of us back into a dark corner so that the flesh can visit it again.

Light and dark exist in all of us. Deepening our faith and our connection to God draws us increasingly into the light. This is the hopeful final destination of our journey of faith. As we continue to seek to be in the light may we rejoice in verse 21. May we each “see plainly that what has been done has been done through God”. All that we are in Christ has and will be done through God alone. It is not through our own efforts or by our works. Faith is a gift from God. Thanks be to God for this gift.

Prayer: Lord God, each day we find ourselves at places along the spectrum of light and darkness. At times pride or some other manifestation of self rises up, drawing me towards the darkness. In those times, send the Spirit of truth, calling me back towards the light. Help me to walk each day more in the light. Amen.


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Great in Love, Rich in Mercy

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-5

Verse 4: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Today’s passage is all about the change that God has made in us. Before Christ we were as Paul writes: “dead in our transgressions and sins”. We lived a life focused on self and on doing whatever we wanted to please self and our earthly desires. We lived according to the “ways of the world” and we were “disobedient” to God. For many of us older folks that meant distancing ourselves from the faith of our childhood and from the faith of our parents. For the younger readers, a larger segment grew up without a childhood church or faith. For all who came to faith the realization came that the things of this world are temporary. They never really satisfy or bring meaning and purpose to this life. Peace, contentment, joy… only come through the eternal relationship that we find in Jesus Christ.

Why didn’t God leave us there, dead in our sin? Why did God continue to pursue us even when we were running from him? We find our answer in verse four: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God’s love is greater than our sin. We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another. God calls and woos and chases us until we make the choice to invite him into our hearts or until we draw our last earthly breath. Faith, however, does not stop at our decision for Christ. Once we accept Christ we are not finished. It is just the beginning of our faith journey. We are not suddenly sinless. Satan continues to pursue us, often with renewed passion, enticing and tempting the flesh still within us. Yet the battle is different, it is changed. The field is no longer level. With Christ alive in us, we do not fight alone. The Holy Spirit leads and guides, convicts and corrects, ever helping us to choose Christ over the world, good over evil, light over darkness.

Lent is a season that reminds us of this battle, that draws us into combat. In Lent we are called again and again to look within, to seek out the parts of us that still need to yield to Christ’s authority and reign. In this seeking and yielding it is grace and mercy that provide the way. In love it is God’s grace and mercy that say our past doesn’t matter, that our selfishness or pride or fear doesn’t control us anymore, that we are loved just as we are. In the season of Lent and in the hard work that we are called to, this is the good news: we are loved, we are forgiven, we are saved by grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love that is so deep that I cannot ever reach the bottom. Thank you for your love that is so wide that I cannot ever see the other side. Thank you for your love that always surrounds me, even when I stumble and fall. What great love. Amen.


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Above All, Love

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse 8: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage today is familiar to many people. When one says “the Ten Commandments” almost everyone has an idea of what you’re talking about and some people can name a few of them. The first part of the Ten Commandments is about our relationship with God and the last part is about our relationships with one another. The first three help us to remember who and what God is as we seek to honor and worship God. The last six define boundaries or morals for how we are to live with and treat each other.

I have always included the fourth commandment with the first three when considering the structure and organization of the Ten Commandments. This morning I read about the idea that #4 connects or “bridges” the other commandments. Simply put the fourth is: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”. For most Jews the Sabbath would be Saturday. Its Sunday for most Christians. Other days can be the Sabbath too. Mine tends to be Friday. I’ve always understood this commandment to be about taking time to connect to God and to give our bodies and souls a day of rest and renewal. It is all this, yes. But this commandment also limits our drive to overwork and it counters our fleshy tendency to set priorities according to the world’s norms instead of God’s. It protects those we might otherwise exploit for our own gain. It reminds us that we are not in control of everything. It joins us with our brothers and sisters in turning towards the Lord our God.

Taken as a whole the Ten Commandments are rooted in love. The Ten are about loving God, loving others, and loving self. On this Sabbath day, may we love well.

Prayer: Dear God, above all else may I love today. May my love for you and for the other be complete and full today. In turn, guide me to love myself too. Amen.


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Two Actions

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Continuing on from yesterday’s passage, Jesus gathers his disciples and the crowd to explain the cost of following. Having just explained the price that he will pay, Jesus details what will be expected of those who choose to follow him as Lord and Savior. The words that Jesus speaks are powerful and challenging. His words will become even more so as the disciples reflect on the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.

Jesus identifies two actions one must take to “come after” or to “follow” him. The first is to “deny self”. This is what Jesus lived out his whole ministry. He placed the needs and wants of God first, closely followed by the needs and wants of others. Self was a very distant third. If we were to follow Jesus today, what would this look like? It would begin with listening to the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God in our lives. The second step would be to respond to the guidance and direction of said Spirit as we respond to the needs of those we meet day by day. Jesus saw the other, the lonely, the hurting, the hungry… and ministered them as he encountered them. May we too have ears to hear and eyes to see.

The second action is to “take up” our cross. The cross represents the way of Jesus. For Jesus it was ultimately walking the path to suffering and death for the sake of others – for you and me. Along the way Jesus often took up the cross for others. He took up the cause of the marginalized and the sinners and the outcasts and declared them worthy of his time and of the kingdom of God. Each of these encounters against the powers of the world came with a price too. The way of Jesus calls us to sacrifice as well. Jesus calls us away from the things of this world by reminding us that the cost of trying to “gain the whole world” is to “forfeit” our soul. In contrast, following Jesus will save our soul. Giving up our selfish desires and leanings and focusing on Jesus’ example of sacrificial service will lead us to bless others as we live out the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ. May it be so as we seek to bring God the glory.

Prayer: Lord God, tune me in to the Holy Spirit within me. Guide me to not only hear but to respond, offering all I can to those I meet in the world around me. Empower me to shine your light in all I do and say. Amen.