pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Consuming Fire

Reading: Exodus 24: 12-18

Verse 17: “The glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire”.

Fire is often associated with God. As Moses ascends the mountain in response to God’s call, he walks into the fire. In verse seventeen we read, “The glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire”. The consuming fire is not destructive or life-taking. God’s fire is transforming and life-giving. In this sense it is like a forest fire. Fire is nature’s way of renewing and sustaining life in the forest. Fire consumes all the old, dead wood, allowing space for new growth. Fire also causes some seeds to germinate, bringing new life. At times, God’s fire is also like a forest fire in another way. It may run wild through our lives, moving quickly and powerfully, burning up the old and dead parts of us, leaving us prepared for renewal.

Fire is also a refining tool. In the world of precious metals fire is used to burn off impurities, leaving behind something much more valuable. God’s fire also works this way in the life of a believer, consuming all of our sins and selfish ways, leaving us more like the Lord. By removing our impurities, God is making us more into his image. Even the “small” sins that we hold onto as immature Christians are touched by the power of God’s fire. The fire changes us from within, reshaping our hearts, over and over, each time making us more like our Lord.

Moses walked up the mountain without fear. He knew the fire to be an extension of God’s love. Entering into God’s presence always resulted in positive change in his life. In our humanity we sometimes are reluctant to enter into God’s fire. Quite bluntly, at times we like to hold onto our sin. Yet we too are called to walk into the fire. As God’s love grows within us, we mature in the faith and become willing to place ourselves within God’s consuming and refining fire. We come to know that there we are made into someone better. There we are made new again. There our old ways are consumed and we are able to be filled with even more of God’s love. In this process, we are made more like him, coming to shine a little brighter, to bring more glory to God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, may your fire burn hot in me, consuming all of me that is not pleasing to you. Consume the chaff, the sins, the selfishness, the pride – all that needs to go. May your fire purify me, each time leaving behind something more and more useful in your kingdom. May the fire of your love burn strongly within me. Amen.


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Now Choose Life

Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

Verses 19-20: “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”.

Nearing the end of his life Moses addresses the people one last time. As much as anyone, he has lived “life and prosperity, death and destruction” with the people of God. He has been their mediator and communicator with God. He has worked and worked to get the people to the edge of the Promised Land. In the previous chapter in Deuteronomy they have renewed the covenant and in our passage today Moses urges them to choose obedience to God.

Verse sixteen is the call to obedience: “walk in his ways… keep his commands, decrees, and laws”. Doing so leads to good life, an increase in numbers, and God’s blessings. In verse seventeen Moses details what happens when one turns away from God. Moses defines turning away as being drawn away from God and bowing down to others gods. The consequence is dire: “you will certainly be destroyed”. Given such a stark difference in outcomes, who in the world would choose the second? Well, the world chooses disobedience. The Israelites did in Moses’ day and we continue to do so today. I think that we have more gods than ever to bow down to today.

Moses then calls on heaven and earth as the witnesses to the choices the Israelites will make. The choice is simple: “life or death, blessings or curses”? It seems so simple. But Moses has been around these stubborn, stiff-necked people for forty years now. He has observed how difficult obedience is. Again, it is at least as difficult today. Yet Moses has hope, both in God and for the people. He compels them towards obedience, saying, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”. May this be our choice as well. May we love God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: God, you are life. In all else there is but death. Yet sometimes I choose other than you. My thoughts and words and sometimes even my actions can be of the world. I am weak. But you are strong. Bend me ever towards loving obedience. Fill me with your Spirit. 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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Good News Story

Reading: Psalm 79: 5-9

Verse 9: “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake”.

As I sit and look across the street at the gray house surrounded by big green trees, the world seems so peaceful. Looking to the left I see the church. The sand-colored bricks and darkened windows present a place of calm and rest. In the little moments like these, when God draws us in, the world feels like such a beautiful place. Then my mind turns to Psalm 79 and to the troubles of today.

The psalmist cries out to God, “How long”? It is a familiar refrain in the Bible and in our lives today. Because of the hard situation of exile, the psalmist cries out for an end to God’s anger. The psalmist asks God to pour it out instead on all those nations that do not believe in God. “May your mercy come quickly to meet us” is the desperate plea. In our time and in our lives we experience all of this. There are times when it feels like God is angry – or at least distant. There are times when a non-believer is living a blessed and enjoyable life and we wonder why the faithful suffer. There are times when God cannot lift us out of our valley quickly enough. We can relate to the psalmist’s words and to the place the Israelites find themselves spirituality and emotionally.

Even in the midst of such times Christians hold onto hope and to the promises that God is near and that we are beloved. Like the Israelites, we have experienced the hand of God intervening and have been brought up out of the pit by our God. But in this window of time, relief has not come. On behalf of the people, the psalmist petitions God, asking God to “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake”. We pray this prayer or one much like it often. We find ourselves or we get ourselves into a tough place and we too seek God’s mercy and grace. When God finds us and renews us to wholeness and full life, as God surely does, then it becomes part of our good news story. And when we choose to tell that story to others, it brings God the glory. May we rejoice in the Lord our God, sharing the good news with others today.

Prayer: God, your mercies never fail and your love never ends. This I know to be true because over and over you are present to me in my need and in my joys. May my witness today help others to know you more. Amen.


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The Spring of Living Water

Reading: Jeremiah 2: 4-13

Verse 13: “My people have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns”.

Jeremiah 2 opens with God remembering when Israel was young and was faithful to God. Then, in our verses for today, God questions why the people have strayed so far and asks what was so wrong that led them away. The nation has turned to worthless idols and has become worthless themselves. They have forgotten God’s deeds for them; even the priests and prophets have turned from God. Verse twelve sums up God’s emotions at this point: “Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great terror”.

A quick glance around our world and one would guess that heaven is appalled. There is certainly no lack of people following idols and worshipping false gods. Many today seek to find happiness and contentment in money, possessions, titles, status, popularity… A good deal more seek happiness and contentment in alcohol, drugs, sex, hobbies… Add in the violence, abuse, war, injustices… and heaven must shudder. There seems to be a great distance between our world today and the world that God created long ago.

Our passage closes with verse thirteen. Here we read, “My people have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns”. God is like a spring of living water. Jesus made this claim as well. A spring of living water is active and fresh and moving and full of energy. It never runs dry and is always available to nourish, cleanse, renew. This is a good description of God. But instead of going to the living water, the people have built cisterns. And they are cracked. The stagnant, tepid, lifeless water is leaking out, being wasted. This too is a good analogy for a people who have gone astray from God. Overall, this is a good metaphor for those who walk without God. Without God, what is the point of life? What is the meaning of all this?

It is quite a contrast to think of God as a spring of living water and to think of the ways of the world as a broken cistern. It is spot-on. One is eternal and one is temporal. Which do you choose?

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, your life and spirit is everywhere: in the chirp of the crickets, in the sway of the trees, in the beat of my heart. May your spring of living water ever nourish and renew me. Amen.


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Compassion and Love

Reading: Luke 13: 14-17

Verse 16: “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham… be set free… from what bound her”?

Jesus heals on the Sabbath, elevating this woman’s need over keeping the law. Compassion and love lead Jesus to action. This “work” on the Sabbath makes the synagogue leader “indignant”. One definition of this word is: “feeling or showing anger because of something unjust or unworthy” (Merriam-Webster). From our viewpoint, healing the woman is neither unjust or unworthy. The leader paraphrases one of the Ten Commandments, basically saying to come be healed on the other six days.

Jesus addresses the leader’s indignant heart. He begins by reminding all there that they care for their animals on the Sabbath, meeting their basic needs. He then extends the idea to someone much more worthy of care: the woman. Jesus says to all there: “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham… be set free… from what bound her”? If you care for your ox or donkey on the Sabbath, how much more should you care for a child of God? The religious leaders are shamed, as they should be. Jesus’ point is obvious. The crowd recognizes this, expressing delight in Jesus’ actions. In our hearts, we too cheer for Jesus.

The Sabbath was a day set aside to worship God and to renew the body. The woman was able to do both because Jesus reached out to her. Sometimes in our worship we too are led to deeper love and compassion. Perhaps the message or the scripture or a song or prayer time may trigger action in you. Maybe a “least of these”, like the woman, will be placed on your heart by the Holy Spirit. If so, may you practice love and compassion today, helping another closer to God this day.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your story of love and compassion today. Help me to see beyond the surface today and to engage those who need healing and wholeness. Amen.