pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Daily Choosing

Reading: Romans 6: 12-23

Verse 14: “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace”.

Paul is writing to the church in Rome because they are struggling with living righteous lives. Sin is present. Some people have even adopted the belief that they can do whatever they want because grace will cover all sin. This passage remains very applicable today – maybe even moreso than the day it was written.

Paul begins by encouraging the followers of Jesus to not let sin reign in their “mortal bodies”. As followers today we understand why this encouragement is so necessary. Sin is ever present in our lives. The world and culture around us promotes sinful choices and indulgent living. When we are younger or just new to the faith the lures of the flesh and the desires of the world draw us towards sin. These things do lose some of their allure as we mature, but other struggles arise. Pride and ego grow and the need to be in control can become struggles. Our tongues remain something we must keep tightly bridled. Things like worry and fear, doubt and anger, jealousy and envy are lifelong battles for many of us who follow Jesus.

Paul reminds those in the Roman church and all of us today that sin should not be our master because “you are not under the law, but under grace”. The law points out our wrongs or sins and it condemns unrighteous behaviors and choices. But under the law our sin remains. The shame and the guilt become co-masters with sin when we allow sin to take root in our lives. Paul reminds us that we are living under grace. As such, sin is not in control. When we confess and repent of our sin, we are freed by grace from the sin and from the shame and guilt. We are made new again.

It is a wonderful and beautiful thing, this grace. One may even ask or think, then why not just choose grace? If it were that easy how good life would be! But sin is a near constant presence, the battle is always just right there. Daily, even moment by moment at times, we must “offer ourselves to God”, choosing to walk in his righteousness. May it be so today.

Prayer: Lord God, in the flesh the struggle with sin is so real, so regular, so present. Thank you that your Spirit is right here within me, reminding, guarding, encouraging… Strengthen my faith, O God, that I may walk in the light. Amen.


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Daily Made New

Reading: 1 Peter 3: 13-22

Verse 21: “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… the pledge of a good conscience toward God”.

Peter touches a little bit on the idea of being saved through the water in today’s passage. In verse twenty he recalls Noah and family and how they were saved through the water. They were saved but all others perished as God, in a way, started over. In the next verse Peter speaks of baptism, using the story of Noah as a metaphor for baptism. In verse 21 he writes, “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… the pledge of a good conscience toward God”. Our journey of salvation begins as we “enter” the family of God. For many traditions this begins with infant baptism. For some water is also used in infant dedication. Both of these practices acknowledge that the child or person is a child of God and the process invites the Holy Spirit to be a part of that new life in Christ.

Baptism in the early church was also very symbolic. It was a part of the profession of faith. Adults and often their children would profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and then they would be baptized. Just as with Noah, the waters that they were immersed in were seen as cleansing – the waters would wash away the old self and one would emerge as a “new creation” in Christ. The Holy Spirit would be a part of the process – sometimes falling upon the person, leading them to be baptized, and sometimes it would fall upon them after being baptized, as it did with Jesus. As is the case with baptism today, the event marked the beginning of the faith journey. That is the “pledge” part of today’s key verse. It was not ever about just being made clean and then being done with it. The battle with sin does not end in this lifetime. The act of dying to self begun in baptism is one repeated over and over. Our journey of faith continues forever.

Peter connects baptism to salvation. Once we profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are “saved”. Our souls are saved for heaven. “Saved” becomes our status. Part of our salvation is justification and part of it is sanctification. Justification is simply being made right with God. Each time we come to God and confess and repent, we are being justified as we are forgiven and made new again. Sanctification is being made more like Jesus. As we wrestle with sin and continue to die to self over and over, we are becoming more and more like Jesus. These two processes are constant parts of our journey of faith. All of this is done in and through Christ. Thanks be to God that daily we are being made more like Jesus.

Prayer: Living God, just as you are alive, so too is my faith. In the living and the dying, my faith is always growing, being refined, shaping me into your son’s image. Thank you that I am a work in progress. Work in me today and every day. Amen.


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Vows to All Peoples

Reading: Psalm 116: 12-19

Verse 14: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”.

Today’s reading begins with a question: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me”? It is a good question to consider. The psalmist’s answer is the fulfillment of his vows to the Lord. Like the psalmist, we too are in relationship with God. And like all relationships, this relationship with God involves a commitment and some expectations. In verse thirteen the psalmist begins his answer to this question. He begins by lifting the cup of salvation – a way to acknowledge and be thankful for the eternal nature of his relationship with God. He continues by committing to call upon the Lord. Today we would spell out this commitment as t-i-m-e. The psalmist is committing to conversation with God. The giving of time often defines the level of commitment that we have to a relationship.

Verses fourteen and seventeen are the same. Both read, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”. For the psalmist that involved thank offerings and praising God in the temple. Our vows certainly involve our worship and our gratitude too. Now, we may not initially think of our relationship with God or with Jesus as having vows. But when we confess and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are making a statement that has some vows attached. When we ask Jesus to be the Lord of our life, we are asking him to be in charge, to be #1 in everything. In doing so we are pledging to place our will, our desires, our all second to his will, his desires… We are vowing to love the Lord above all else in our lives. When we make that vow we are committing to walk as Jesus’ disciple or follower. This vow entails doing what he did – loving God and neighbor with all that we are and with all that we have.

Part of the psalmist’s vow was to fulfill his vow to all of God’s people. All are children of God. Yes, perhaps some do not realize this, but they are still children of God. This is how Jesus fulfilled his vows to God. For the psalmist this would include the tribes and clans outside the nation of Israel. For Jesus that would mean loving the leper, the Samaritans, the blind and lame, the possessed, the sinners… Who might that be for you? Jesus said that we would be known by our love. What unexpected person will you extend love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the person in need of love that I meet today. Help me to see as you see, to maybe see something or someone that I might normally miss. Break my heart to respond, O Lord. Amen.


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A Time of Praise

Reading: John 20: 24-31

Verse 27: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe”.

Thomas missed the first visit of Jesus to the disciples. Upon hearing the news that Jesus is alive, Thomas questions it. He makes the brash statement that he must reach out and touch the risen Lord to know its really true. A week later Thomas comes face to face with that possibility. Jesus comes again to the disciples. After again offering them his peace, Jesus says to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe”. Reach out and touch me, Jesus says.

In that moment, instead of having a tactile moment, Thomas is blessed with a spiritual moment, with a heart moment. Knowing in his heart that Jesus is alive, Thomas confesses to Jesus: “My Lord and my God”. Thomas has this moment when he is assured in his heart that Jesus is the Messiah, is the resurrected Christ, is his Lord and Savior. Thomas did not need to physically touch Jesus after all. The same is true for you and for me. For us it may well be impossible to physically touch Jesus. And yet we believe. We are some of the ones Jesus refers to in verse 29 – the blessed “who have not seen and yet have believed”. Like Thomas we are not without evidence of the living Christ. Each of us have moments and experiences where we too can claim that we reached out and touched the risen Christ. Take a few moments and mentally stroll through these today, making those moments a time of praise between you and the living Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, as I think about my journey of faith it is scattered with times when you were so real and so present to me. Thank you for the many ways and times that you have been there when I needed you most and for the sacred moments when you just showed up. Please continue to visit me often Lord. Amen.


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The Beautiful Cycle

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 7: “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”.

In verses five and six the psalmist practices something that can be difficult for many of us in the modern world: he waits. The psalmist waits, his soul waits. And he waits with hope! He trusts in God’s word and that brings him hope. It can be harder to wait for the Lord’s word or voice during a time of darkness or grief or suffering. This is what the psalmist might be referring to in verse six, where the watchmen wait for the morning. Envision it: after a long night on watch they long for the first rays to peak up over the horizon, bringing light to the long darkness. Is that not what it feels like during those times when we have been stuck in the valley and we long to see and feel light and love again?

Turning to verse seven we find much encouragement. It reads, “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”. We too can choose to hope in God because the two gifts mentioned by the psalmist are fully ours as well: unfailing love and full redemption. In fact, the two are very much connected. God’s love for you and me leads to the gift of redemption. In love God forgives all that we confess and repent of, welcoming us back into that unfailing love. It is a beautiful cycle to be caught up in. For this, today we shout: thanks be to God!

Prayer: God, your perfection is so much greater than my failures and my imperfection. Yet your love bridges the gap and then draws me back across the bridge, back into your love. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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The Joy of Our Salvation

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-17

Verse 12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me”.

Psalm 51 is often read on Ash Wednesday and at other times of repentance and renewal seeking. The Psalm centers on God removing our sins and restoring us back into right relationship. Today many will be marked by ashes, an ages old symbol of humility and contrition in God’s presence. For many centuries the Israelites have put on ashes and sackcloth when coming before the Lord in times of deep prayer and confession.

The psalmist begins with “Have mercy on me, O God”. Many of us sinners have uttered these words an almost infinite number of times. We know what David is talking about when he writes “my sin is always before me”. While this is true, there is an even greater truth: God’s love is always before us too. And behind us. And in front of us. God’s love surrounds us always.

In verse ten we hear a familiar verse for this day: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”. On Ash Wednesday this is ever our humble prayer. As we begin our Lenten journey towards the cross of Calvary we desire to begin cleansed and renewed by the Lord our God. As we allow our sins and failures to fall away in worship, we will experience God’s love and mercy working within us, making us new again. As God makes us new again we can join David in proclaiming verse twelve: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me”.

The joy of our salvation is not just a heavenly thing. It is that but it is also a part of our daily lives. The ashes that will be placed on foreheads and hands today remind us of our mortality, connecting us to the urgency of confession and repentance. The ashes also remind us of God’s grace. The ashes in the shape of the cross remind us that Jesus’ sacrifice has covered not only our sins but has secured our salvation as well. The victory was over both sin and death.

Our passage today closes with this reminder: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart”. May we be broken today by our sin. May we lay our whole selves before the Lord today. In his great love and mercy God will wash us clean; he will restore us to the joy of our salvation. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, you are my God forever and ever. Your love never fails, it never runs dry. On this day help me to trust fully in that love. I pray for a broken and contrite heart. Turn my heart inside out, search me and know me completely. Then and only then will you be my all in all. Only then will I be fully yours. May it be so today. May it be so, O Lord. Amen.


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Acknowledging Sin

Reading: Psalm 32

Verse 5: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquities… you forgave the guilt of my sin”.

David begins Psalm 32 recognizing that the person whose sins are forgiven and not counted or held against them is blessed. He then offers a juxtaposition to that idea in verses three and four, recalling how he wasted away and felt a heaviness upon him in those times when he lived with sin in his life. We can all relate to the two places or emotions that David brings to light.

In verse five we read, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquities… you forgave the guilt of my sin”. He is owning a step we too must own: confession. David saw the sin in his life and came before God, claiming his sin and laying it before the Lord. In love, David received God’s grace and mercy. His sins were forgiven, the guilt was washed away. We too come to this place. We live with sin to a point. Then the Holy Spirit will work in us, bringing a conviction that leads us to lay our sins before God.

The step that follows next is a changed life. We call it repentance – a desire to leave our sin behind us and an effort to live accordingly. In verse eight God’s voice is heard. God lets David (and us) know that he will “teach us in the way we should go”, counselling and watching over us. We are warned not to be like the stubborn mule, returning to our sinful ways.

In verse ten we read, “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man [or woman] who trusts in him”. May that be our walk of faith this day and every day – turning to God, being honest and transparent before God, calling on God to guide us. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your mercies that are new every morning and for your unending love that never fails. Lead me over and over to the place of kneeling before you, being made right again. Thank you for your love and mercy. 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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Poverty of Spirit

Reading: Matthew 5: 1-3

Verse 3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”.

Today we focus in on the first verses of the Beatitudes. Yesterday we read through verse twelve, hearing all of the Beatitudes. Verses one and two set up the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The basic idea here is that Jesus goes up a mountain and begins to teach. There is an implication in this that Jesus did not just go up a few feet, but went up a ways. If one wanted to hear Jesus teach, one had to exert a little effort and head up the mountain. Figuratively, this remains the case with our faith today. It does not come easily but requires some commitment on our part. This is especially true if we want to have a faith that grows and matures and deepens.

The one Beatitude that we have today is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”. Here Jesus follows a typical teaching style, beginning with the most important or critical and then unpacking from there. For example, in the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments begin this way. God begins by establishing the singular relationship – one God, one people. This is the hinge upon which all the others rest. To be poor in spirit does not mean having weak faith. It means recognizing our weakness. It means recognizing our need for God. To be poor in spirit requires humility and honesty. The process begins with recognizing our brokenness and our need for redemption. This leads to confession and repentance of our sins, an act that requires humility. No one in the world likes to admit they are wrong or have done wrong. A right relationship with God begins by admitting this and then yielding to God’s power to make us new again. To continue to live in this cycle requires honesty. To keep looking within, to keep acknowledging our sin, to keep asking for God’s help requires honesty. The battle with sin never ends so our need for forgiveness and renewal is neverending as well.

From a place of recognizing our utter reliance on God, the other Beatitudes unfold. Being meek, hungering for righteousness, being a peacemaker… – they come out of our poverty of spirit. May our daily walk ever be grounded in humility and honesty, in our deep need for God. May it always be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a will to keep trooping up the mountain to be in your presence. You’re always so willing to come down the mountain and into my valleys. Make me as willing to seek you humbly and honestly. Day by day, may my hunger and thirst for you grow. Fuel the fire, Lord, fuel the fire. Amen.


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Love God and One Another

Reading: Psalm 15

Verse 1: “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill”?

The opening questions in verse one of today’s Psalm deal with who may be in God’s presence. The broad answer to these questions is “anyone”. But it is not that simple. While it is true that anyone can be in God’s presence, not all are able to. Anyone who is in a right relationship with God can be in his presence. But if we are separated from God because of the sin in our lives, then we cannot be in a right relationship with God. This Psalm is intended to help worshippers look within, to confess and repent of the sins they bear, before they enter into God’s holy presence.

Verses two through five give us a short list of who may or may not enter God’s presence. Those who are blameless, righteous, and who speak the truth – “even when it hurts” – are welcome into God’s presence. Those who slander or gossip, cast slurs, or lend with usury (high interest) are not able to stand in God’s presence. This, of course, is a short list. There are many more ways to do right in God’s eyes and there are many more ways to sin. But the list does serve to get us thinking about the condition of our relationships with God and with one another. We must consider both because they are intertwined.

This is not just an Old Testament or just a Biblical times issue. In the New Testament, for example, Jesus says not to come to the altar of God if there is an issue between you and another. Jesus instructs us to set that right before coming to God. We reflect this idea in communion, confessing and repenting of our sins before coming forward for the cup and the bread. In our own personal prayers we should also practice confession before bringing our requests and thanks to God.

This idea of righteous living is at the core of how one is able to come into God’s sanctuary or into his presence in any other place or time. Righteous living is based upon our love of God and of one another. Our love of God is reflected in how we love one another. How we love one another reflects how we love God. These two loves are intertwined and inseparable. In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus teaches that everyone is our neighbor. The Psalm ends with “he who does these things will never be shaken”. Loving both God and one another, may we never be shaken.

Prayer: God of love, speak into my heart this day. Where I am not loving you or others, convict me. Where self or pride or arrogance are limiting my ability to really love you or others, strip that sin away. Show me, Lord, how to be love to one and all, to you and to each I meet. Amen.