pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Giving Up Everything

Reading: Luke 14:28-33

Verse 33: “Any of you who does not give up anything, [she or] he cannot be my disciple.

Continuing in Luke 14, Jesus tells two parables to help us understand the cost of discipleship. The first parable speaks of a man wanting to build a tower. Jesus points out that he’ll first estimate the cost before beginning. If he starts and only gets part way he’ll be ridiculed for being unable to finish. The journey of faith is like building a tower. Towers are tall. They stand out and can be seen from far away. When one decides to follow Jesus one commits to standing for what is good, just, holy, and right. If we declare to be a Christian and then turn our back on evil or injustice, others will look at us and ridicule us. Jesus is asking if we’re willing to always speak for and stand up for those in the margins of life.

The second story is about a king going to war. Jesus points out that before the battle begins he’ll assess his strength, his chances of winning. If he thinks defeat it coming, he’ll ask for terms of peace. When we consider entering the battle for our soul our for the soul of others, we too must consider if we have what it takes. Now, of course, we do not fight alone. God is on our side. But we do have a role to play. Jesus is asking us if we’ll ever choose good over evil, right over wrong.

Both of these stories ask us to stop and to think about our commitment to Jesus Christ – to really think about it. While perfection is not expected or attainable, Jesus does expect us to keep building that tower, to keep assessing the battle for our soul. Thus, the call is ever the same: “Any of you who does not give up anything, [she or] he cannot be my disciple.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day walk with me and encourage the building of my faith. Day by day keep me looking within, seeing where I need to work on dying to self. Each day form me and shape me, ever to be more like Christ. Amen.


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All That We Are

Reading: Luke 10:25-27

Verse 27: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”

This week’s gospel text is one of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings: the parable of the good Samaritan. The passage begins with an “expert in the Law” standing up to “test” Jesus. This man asks Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. Perhaps to test the genuineness of the expert, Jesus responds with a question seeking the law expert’s interpretation. To be considered an “expert” this well educated man would’ve known the 600+ laws inside-out.

The expert gives a two-part answer. The first part is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” The man mostly quotes from Deuteronomy 6 but he adds a part to the original scripture. It is interesting to me that an expert in the Law would add something to the word of God. To add “and with all your mind” demonstrates a fuller awareness of belonging to God. It might also indicate a struggle that he has discovered. It is one that I and maybe you wrestle with. As an expert in the Law he would’ve known it inside-out. But knowing it and living it are two very different things. Reading about Jesus and living like Jesus are two radically different things for you and for me. Adding the mind to what we give to God is an important step of surrender.

In closing today, I invite us to consider what it looks like to love God with all of our heart? With all of our soul? With all of our strength? With all of our mind? When taken as a whole, it really involves loving God with all that we are. It involves surrendering the relational, spiritual, physical, and intellectual parts of our being to God. The rest of the parable gives us a great example of what this kind of surrender looks like. Join me tomorrow!

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes this full surrender is not easy. Sometimes I like to decide things for myself. Sometimes I want to be angry and seek revenge. Sometimes I want to be selfish or lazy. Help me, O God, to more fully surrender my whole being to your will and ways. Amen.


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Play the Shepherd

Reading: Psalm 23:1-3

Verse 2: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters – he restores my soul.”

Today we turn to Psalm 23, probably the best known of all the Psalms. David begins with “the Lord is my shepherd.” This term is very common throughout the Bible. It is often used as a metaphor for God’s love and care and guidance and protection. As is the case in the usual readings of the Psalm, we often play the role of the sheep.

In the New Testament one of Jesus’ strongest commands is to “love one another as I have loved you.” He gives this command just after washing the disciples’ feet. What if we, like the Lord and Teacher, like the Good Shepherd, bear witness to his love by also serving others? What if that is how we sometimes play the role of shepherd as we seek to love others as Jesus first loved us?

In verse 2 we read about how the Lord “makes me lie down in green pastures… leads me beside quiet waters.” These actions lead rest and to a restoration of the soul. For some of us, green pastures and quiet waters are restorative. For others maybe it is a mountaintop or a rushing stream. For others it may be a vibrant worship service. For some it’s time in a quiet prayer chapel. For some it is a coffee and some people watching. For others it is a ballgame or an afternoon drive or a long distance run or ride or… Each of us finds peace and restoration in our own way. All of us long to say, “he restores my soul.”

We will all share pasture today with someone who is without peace, who is without quiet, who needs some restoration of the soul. The question I invite you to consider is this: How can you provide them with “green pastures and still waters” – whatever that might look like for them – today or this week? Consider how you can love or care or guide or protect them to offer some soul restoration. Doing so, you will serve them and love them as Jesus Christ loves you. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to see what I can offer another that will bring peace and restoration to their soul. Guide me to shepherd them and to love them as you love me. Amen.


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Respond to the Call

Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9

Verse 6: “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.”

Isaiah 55 begins with an invitation: “Come, all who are thirsty… you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” God is inviting all who are thirsty or hungry to come near, to be filled. This is an open invitation, a call to all people. Continuing on in verse 3 we read, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” God is inviting us to a spiritual feast, to come and nourish our souls.

With this free and open invitation, wouldn’t all people come to the Lord? Although we hope the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, the truth is that not all people will come. Just as some won’t come to receive free food because there’s got to be a catch or because they fear being rejected or being asked for something at the end of the line, some hesitate to answer the call of God in their lives. In addition to these previous reasons, some think themselves unworthy of God’s free gifts. And still others are not willing to surrender their lives or that sin or two, yielding to God’s control.

There is a vulnerability required to come into God’s presence. We’ve all experienced times when we’ve allowed sin or anger or other things to separate us from God. We can all remember the trust and courage we had to muster up to admit our need for God. It takes vulnerability and humility to admit our need and it takes trust that God will not turn us away or judge us unworthy after all. Even though we know it is an open invitation to receive freely, we too can hesitate, we too can refuse to step into God’s love and mercy. Like the beggar that doesn’t quite trust the hand offering bread, we too can fear or doubt the vastness of God’s love and mercy.

In verse 6 we read, “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.” Trust in God. Respond to the call and to the invitation. God’s unconditional love and unending mercy is boundless. God is faithful. Let us drink deeply of God’s faithfulness and goodness so that “your soul will delight in the richest of fare” – God’s love and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, move my hesitant feet a little closer to your throne of love and grace. Open my hands and my heart to receive what you freely offer. Pour out your love and mercy, making me more like Jesus. 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 New Covenant

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

In Jeremiah 31 we see that God is a covenant God. Our passage opens with God promising a new covenant. In verse 31 we read, “The time is coming…” The Lord then references the last covenant – the one given as God led them out of slavery in Egypt. Here the covenant relationship takes on the husband-wife analogy. God led the Israelites to freedom as a husband would lead his wife, gently taking her by the hand and walking with her. During the time in the wilderness God was a constant companion to the Israelites. God guided and protected and provided for Israel. Despite this intimate and personal relationship, Israel wandered soon thereafter. They worshiped other gods, forgetting all that God had done for them.

Instead of breaking the relationship and moving on from Israel, God declares that he will make a new covenant, a better covenant. Instead of writing the covenant on stone tablets, God declares, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”. The covenant will shift from external to internal. God’s ways will be in our mind and on our heart. The new covenant will be mediated through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will internalize God’s ways in heart and mind and soul.

Even with such an extraordinary gift, we too can become like the Israelites at times. We forget our true love and chase after the gods and idols of this world. We allow other things to supplant our primary relationship with God. Yet our covenant God remains, continuing to say ‘I love you’ over and over. Instead of allowing the distance that we create to define the relationship, God pursues us, draws us back into relationship. No matter our response, God still says, ‘I love you’. God remains our God. We are his people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Covenant God, you love me far beyond what I can even begin to comprehend. Your love goes on and on and on. My love for you is fragile, tenuous, limited. Yet you love me without reserve, without condition. What a wonderful example you give me to follow. Lead me in your love, O God. 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.


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Dominion

Reading: Psalm 22: 23-31

Verse 28: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

The words that we read in today’s Psalm seem far from the realities of our world. The world feels like it is full of suffering. Many of their cries seem to go unanswered. The poor do not appear to be satisfied. All the earth has not turned toward the Lord. In the midst of these continuing realities, verse 28 calls us to a higher truth, to an eternal reality: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

The hope that we find in our faith reminds us that this world and its trials are temporary. God is truly in charge and one day the Lord will be the only king or ruler. All people past and present will “kneel before him”. This is a future scene that one day will come. As we live out our day to day lives, do we simply wait for Christ to return or to call us home? Do we just go through the motions of life and live with the suffering and the cries and the plight of the poor? Should we be okay with all the lost souls?

As Christians in the modern world reading these words written long ago by King David, our role is to connect to that “future generation” and to be the ones who “proclaim his righteousness” and who share the hope we have with a world in need. Rather than seeing ourselves as David and the Jews did and do – as a chosen people set aside for God – may we see ourselves as Jesus saw and lived out his ministry: as one sent into the world to minister to needs, to care for the marginalized, to alleviate suffering. May we, by our words and actions, proclaim that the kingdom of God has drawn near, manifesting this reality in the world. May all that we do and say reveal the dominion and rule of Christ here and now. In and through us, may Christ reign.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to the cries of the suffering and to the needs around me. Lead and guide me to make your love known in this world. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: Psalm 25: 1-10

Verse 9: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way”.

Photo credit: Jan Huber

Today’s Psalm is about the trust and assurance that King David has in God. David begins Psalm 25 by lifting his soul up to God. This is what we do in Lent – this season of reflection and introspection. David asks not to be put to shame by God or by his enemies and perhaps not by himself. David then asks God to “teach me your paths”. David wants to know God’s ways, to be guided by God’s truths. His heart desires a closer walk with God. This desire is a the heart of the Lenten season as well.

In verse nine David writes, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way”. Humility is an essential part of our journey. If we are not humble we can get caught up in the shame that comes with our failures and sins, especially when we internalize the shame. Humility reminds us that we are not perfect and that we do not have to live out our faith on our own. God’s Spirit and the Word and our brothers and sisters in Christ walk alongside us. Humility allows us to learn and grow, both from our mistakes as well as our successes because both are grounded in the goodness and steadfastness of God.

Just as life was for King David, our Lenten journey will not be one steady ascent to the pinnacle of Easter Sunday. While we hope to continue growing closer and closer and to be more and more like Jesus during these forty days, we will have setbacks and pauses. We are limited and imperfect. In verse ten we read, “All of the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful”. All. Each day of our Lenten journey may we keep these truths in mind, allowing them to guide and empower our journey together with God and with one another. May it always be so.

Prayer: Lord God, as I lift up my soul to you, refine it as you may. Teach me your ways so that I may faithfully walk the path to the cross. When I stumble, as I know I will, lift me up and set me back upon your path. 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.