pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Really That Simple

Reading: Galatians 5:1 and 13-21

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Paul begins our passage today with a word of encouragement: “Christ has set us free. Stand firm.” No longer living under the Law, Paul has found freedom in Christ. Yes, he still wrestles with sin, as we all do, but he has been freed from the guilt and shame. No longer remaining stuck there, Paul has been freed to follow Jesus Christ and to live captive to Christ. No longer hindered by that old “yoke of slavery” to the Law, Paul stands firm in his faith in Jesus Christ and invites us to join him.

The freedom Paul finds is not a “you can do anything you want” freedom but a freedom lived within the bounds of Christ’s words and example. Paul identifies the filter for determining this line in verse 14. Here he reminds us: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Is he speaking of the old Jewish Law or of the new law of Jesus Christ? Or is it both? I believe it is both. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5). He fulfilled it by being God’s love lived out in the world. Doing so, Jesus was led by God or the Spirit, as Paul refers to in verses 16-18. Led by the Spirit, Christ was not captive to the desires of the sinful nature. We too can claim this Holy Spirit power and the freedom it brings.

In verse 19-21 Paul gives quite the list of “acts of the sinful nature.” Even though quite the list, it is quite incomplete. That maybe being a given, the sins on Paul’s list and on any other list we can generate come down to following the single command given in verse 14. If we truly love our neighbor more than self, we will not sin against them or against God. It’s really that simple: love unconditionally and fully.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see with your eyes of love. This is where so many of my relationships and my interactions begin, with what I see. So let me see all as you see them, as a beloved child of God. Then lead me to love them – all of them – in a way that they come to better know your love. Amen.


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Darkness

Readings: John 18:25-28 and Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Verse 5: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.”

In the story line of Holy Week, by Friday morning Jesus has been arrested in the garden, has been found guilty by the religious leaders, and is brought to Pilate in the early morning. During the late night hours Jesus remained at Caiaphas’ house. Tradition has it that these hours were spent in a dungeon. It was a time alone, spent in a dark place. Perhaps this is what we read of in Isaiah 53:3 – “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” During this time, Peter will deny even knowing Jesus. Three times.

In spite of the rejection, the denial, the persecution, Jesus still chooses the cross. Isaiah 53:4 says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” The weight of the cross itself isn’t the only thing Jesus carried to Golgatha. As the early morning progresses, Jesus is sentenced to death by crucifixion. His body will be nailed to the cross in the third hour – about 9 am. In Isaiah 53:5 we read, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” The nails pierced his skin, the weight of the sin of the world lay heavy upon the innocent one. Verse 10 reminds us, “the Lord makes his life a guilt offering.” Verse 12: “he bore the sins of many.”

At noon darkness falls over the land. As our iniquities sit upon Jesus, all of creation mourns. Pouring out his life for us, Jesus breathes his last at about 3 pm. The body will hastily be placed in Joseph’s tomb – the Sabbath begins at sunset. All feels lost. All is wrapped in sorrow and grief. The incarnate one is dead.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for walking this difficult path for me and for all of humanity. You are familiar with our iniquities and suffering. Yet you chose love. Thank you. Amen.


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Open and Free to All

Reading: Luke 22:14-28

Verse 17: “Take this and divide it among you.”

In our reading today we find Jesus sharing in the first communion with his disciples. Peter and John has been sent ahead to secure the room and to gather the elements to celebrate the Passover. Like it was with the two sent to find the colt, Peter and John “found things just as Jesus had told them.” This is another example of the divinity of Christ.

As they gather Jesus tells them that he has “eagerly desired” to share in this meal one more time before he suffers. During the meal Jesus takes a cup and says, “Take this and divide it among you.” All partake in the sharing of this cup. All will partake in the bread and cup of this first communion. Jesus did not send Judas on some phony errand so that he wasn’t around. Jesus demonstrates in verse 21 that he knew Judas would betray him. Yet he included Judas in communion.

What does this simple act tell us about how we understand and practice communion? First, it tells us that communion is for those who have sinned. So it is for all of us. One mustn’t come to the table already made right with God. One comes seeking to be made right with God. Jesus is telling Judas that he is welcome at the table, even though he has already agreed to betray Jesus. So our second lesson is that we too should invite all to the table of grace. The table is open and free to all people, from the purest saint to the most deeply stained sinner. All are invited to be made new again at the table of grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoice in your love that makes me new again every time I kneel at your table of grace. Lead me to invite all to the table of grace so that all may know your love. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 32:6-11

Verse 10: “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in God.”

Returning to the Psalm we continue with this week’s themes of love, mercy, grace, confession, and forgiveness. Verse six begins our passage for today with these words: “Let everyone who is godly pray to you.” David invites us to do so front a place of assurance that he has experienced again and again through prayer. Through a deep and personal connection to God, David says with confidence, “surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach them.” Yes, storms and trials will come. But God will protect those who oft come to the Lord in prayer.

David connects the act of prayer back to the act of confession that he wrote about in verses 1 and 2. To move away from the weight of our sins, away from the isolation that comes with sin, we have to take these burdens to God in prayer. Once we do so we find ourselves forgiven and ready to continue on our journey of faith. We begin to be taught again in “the way you should go” as God counsels and watches over us. Receiving these gifts, we are drawn even deeper into relationship with God.

In verse 10 David writes, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in God.” To be surrounded – that is a place of security and comfort, of contentment and peace. Trust is built through relationship. The prayer driven cycle of confession and forgiveness, where we best experience God’s unfailing love, builds our trust in God. May we often bring our burdens to the Lord in prayer, trusting them to God’s unfailing love.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your constant readiness to hear the burdens and sins of my life. Your unfailing love cleanses me and prepares me to hear your counsel, your guidance. Open me today to all you have for 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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Welcome, Grace

Reading: 1st Corinthians 10:1-13

Verse 11: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”

Today we return to 1st Corinthians 10. Earlier this week we reviewed the sins of the Israelites during the exodus and realized that the sins of idolatry and sexual immortality and the sins of testing and grumbling against God remain with us today. Even though many of us have common roots of faith, just as the Israelites did, we too struggle with sin in our lives. Concerning the Israelites, in verse 5 we read, “God was not pleased with them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” Today, ongoing sin continues to have consequences in our lives and in the world.

The difference for Paul’s audience and for all who call on Jesus as Lord can be found in verse 11. In the last part of this verse Paul identifies believers as those “on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” The word become flesh is the one who has come. Jesus Christ, the salvation of the world, came to change the pattern. Instead of the endless repetition of the sin-confess-sacrifice cycle, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross began the sin-confess-repent-renew cycle. Sacrificing an animal made the Israelites feel better for a time but it did nothing to make them new again, to make them more like God. Grace entered the old cycle and invited us to be made new again each time we repented of our sin, drawing us closer and closer to the holy one. Grace washed away the guilt and shame that kept people stuck in the old cycle and opened the way for a holier way of living. We emerge from times of sin and struggle as more than we were before. God’s faithful, unconditional love brings us closer and closer each time, shaping and refining us to be more and more like Christ, our example. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for Jesus Christ and the gift of grace. Even though I am a sinner, I am saved by grace. Your awesome love continues to work in me, bringing me closer and closer to what and who you created me to be. Thanks be to God! Amen.


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Trust in God Alone

Reading: 1st Corinthians 10:1-13

Verse 12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.”

As Paul works with the Corinthian church, trying to compel them to a more faithful witness, he tells them of the struggles of the Israelites in the desert. Being former Gentiles, they wouldn’t be terribly familiar with the exodus stories. But as we all know too well, the sins of idolatry and sexual immortality and the sins of grumbling against and testing God remain present even to this day. Even though the Israelites were all alone in the desert, God’s people found ways to sin. Even if we went off and lived as a hermit, we’d find ways to sin. Temptation and sin are ever present dangers. Paul reminds the Corinthians of this often. It is only when we are aware of our natural tendency to be drawn towards self and the lures of the flesh that are all around us that we begin to be on guard against such sin.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of all that was in favor of the Israelites remaining faithful: together they passed through the sea and were led by the cloud and by Moses. Together they ate the manna and quail and drank from the rock. And yet they sinned. The church in Corinth was all baptized into the one Christ and they were all indwelled by the same Holy Spirit. Yet they too sinned. To trust in our past or to rely on being a ‘Christian’ is not proof or guarantee against that we will be free of temptation or sin. Paul warns, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.” Faith is not about the past or the future. It is about the present. Just as Jesus called on God the moment that temptation presented itself when he was in the wilderness, so too must we call on God in our present temptation. Right then.

Paul concludes by reminding us that “God is faithful.” When we too choose faith, God will “provide a way out so that you can stand.” In our moment of great need, may we trust in God alone. God is faithful. God is mighty to save.

Prayer: Lord God, turn me always to you and not to my own understanding or will power. Alone I will continue to fail. With you may I stand. Amen.


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A Deeper Truth

Reading: Isaiah 58:1-5

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”

Today’s passage is titled “True Fasting” in my Bible. One could easily substitute “prayer” or “worship” for fasting, changing the corresponding descriptors, and God would be talking about the same thing: holy and righteous living versus going through the motions. The passage begins with God telling Isaiah to “shout it aloud, do not hold back.” Tell it like it is Isaiah! God goes on, “Declare to my people their rebellion… their sins.” Give it to them Isaiah!

As the passage continues God notes that the people “seem eager” to be near to God, to be faithful. Yet they do not sense God’s presence. They ask where God is. On the day of fasting, a day to be set aside as holy and one dedicated to God, the people “exploit their workers” and they “quarrel” and they strike one another with “wicked fists.” God is clear: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” It’s nice that you’re fasting and all, but that faith you claim – it must affect and impact all areas of your life or it’s just for show. Faith is not just a hit or miss thing. It must be 24/7/365.

While all of this is true, we must be aware of a deeper truth and our tendency to fall into a trap. Even though the Israelites are just going through the motions, God longs for them to turn to God with a sincere heart. No matter what they are acting like and no matter what they’ve done (or not done), God continues to call out to them. That’s what God is doing here as Isaiah fulfills his role as prophet. In this truth about God always calling out, there is a caution for us. When someone has been away for a while or when someone shows up because they do not know where else to turn and have exhausted every option, may we check our judgment at the door. Those twists and turns, those ups and downs – just God getting the soil ready, fertile. So as we hold the door open, as we pick up the phone, as we sit down for coffee, may we sincerely and genuinely welcome them into relationship both with us and with the God of love. God’s love always calls out to the list and the hurting – no exceptions, no limits, no barriers. May our love mirror God’s as we seek to walk faithfully day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, in the millions and millions of times that I have failed to love and in the zillions of times that I have stumbled and fallen short, not once have you rejected me, not once have you said “Do this” or “clean that up first”. Your arms are always opened wide to me. Help me to live and love this way too. Thank you. Amen.


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Rejoice and Give Thanks

Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Verse 11: “Rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.”

Today’s passage from Deuteronomy is the story of where the Israelites came from and of their response. Through the giving of the first fruits God is reminding them that all they have is a gift from God. Being freed from slavery, being led through the wilderness, being given this bountiful and productive land – all gifts from God. Physically saying and hearing the words of this ritual is a tangible reminder of the gifts and if the relationship. It is a reminder that they would not be where they are without God. We too could say the same thing.

If we were not born into the family we were born into or if that person or these people hadn’t invited us to know Jesus, we would not be who we are today. Will Willimon wrote, “No one is born Christian.” This is absolutely true. For most of us our journey of faith parallels that of the Israelites. We’ve lived a life captive to sin. We’ve been in the wilderness, wandering and lost. We’ve been blessed, whether materially or educationally or physically or all these and more. All of this too is a gift from God. Yet, without God this is all just stuff – stuff that will change or fade or be left to this earth one day.

The ritual and giving prescribed in Deuteronomy is not because God needs the physical gifts. It is designed to draw the Israelites into deeper connection and into a stronger relationship with God. It reminds them that it was God who chose them, who pursued them, who reached out to them, who guided them, who provided for them. As we near the season of Lent we too are called to rejoice in the blessings and to express our thanksgiving. As a place to begin, may we take time now to thank God for the blessings in our lives and for those who have walked in faith with us, connecting us to the Lord our God.

Prayer: God, the blessings are many and are great. Over and over you have poured into me – whether in Spirit or by those who have raised and guided me. May my grateful response be to share the blessings and to walk with others on their journeys of faith. Amen.


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Stronghold, Deliverance, Refuge

Reading: Psalm 37:39-40

Verses 39-40: “The Lord is their stronghold in times of trouble… their help and deliverance… their refuge.”

At the end of a Psalm that details the contrast between righteous and wicked living the psalmist brings it home. There are many reasons that people choose to walk one of the two very different paths. One cannot pursue power and wealth and live in sin if walking with the Lord. One cannot be consumed by hope, love, humility, and grace if chasing after the things of this world. One can long for the joy, contentment, or peace that faith brings. One can long for the pleasures of the world. To experience either of these paths to the full is to deny the other path. Our Lord reminded us that the way is narrow, but wide is the path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

The psalmist concludes his coverage of these two choices by recognizing that salvation comes from the Lord. Then David writes, “The Lord is their stronghold in times of trouble… their help and deliverance… their refuge.” Stronghold, deliverance, refuge. These are powerful words and images. In times of trouble, in times of testing and temptation, God is our stronghold, our deliverer, our refuge. When the road is difficult to walk, when self begins to rise up, when the lures of the world scream out, turn to the Lord. God is our stronghold, our deliverance, our refuge. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, by the power of your Holy Spirit alive in me, guard me from temptation. Empower me to walk as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Guide me to lean into your strength, your guidance, and your protection. Amen.