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.


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All in All

Reading: Colossians 3: 1-11

Verse 1: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above”.

Paul is writing to the Colossian church. He opens the letter in chapter one with prayers for the church, reminds them that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and that they have been reconciled to God through Christ’s death and resurrection. In chapter two Paul reminds them that they must claim their faith and that he is praying for them. In my Bible, today’s section is titled “Rules for Holy Living”. Understanding these ‘rules’ is a gradual and evolving process. For most of us, this is a slow but steady lifelong process.

When I first met David I had no idea who he had been. Maybe the long hair and slightly loud personality could have hinted at his story. David had church in his childhood but stepped away in his early adult years. His life had become one of fast cars, fast boats, and a fast life. David had money and became involved in the drug world. Soon he was always racing to stay a step ahead of the law. He wove into his story that his mom and grandma were always praying for him. Then one day, in a face to face with mortality and the finite nature of the life he knew, David reached out to God in desperation. God reached back. It began David on the journey to being a servant of Jesus Christ.

In Colossians 3 Paul writes, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above”. The people in the Colossian church had died to the world and were raised to new life in Christ. In verse two Paul also encourages them to set things minds on the things above. In verses five and eight Paul lists several things to not do and lists things to be rid of. These are the things of the world. These are the things many people chase after.

It is hard to set these aside and to always put on the things above. It is, in fact, impossible to do on our own. In verses nine and ten Paul shows how God makes it possible. In Christ we can take off the old self and put on the new self. The new self is renewed day by day. This is part of our lifelong faith journey. Paul concludes our passage today by writing, “Christ is all and is in all”. That became true for my friend David, it is becoming true for me, and it can become true for you. May it be so.

Prayer: God, I am far from perfect but I strive to become more like your perfect son every day. Fill me more with Jesus day by day, making Christ my all in all. Amen.


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Praise the Creator

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34 & 35b

Verse 24: “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures”.

I cannot but help to look out the office window and see the green grass and tall trees gently swaying in the breeze. The sun is shining and even those little yellow dandelions have a beauty to them. There are still a few wet patches in the road – left by the softly falling rain that came by last evening. There are also a few birds chirping and singing to add an auditory sense to the scene outside. Verse 24 opens our Psalm today with these words: “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures”. How true, how true!

Each element of the created world is imagined and made by God. That ranges from the minute amoeba to you and I to the vast array of stars and planets. All of it was created by God. The natural cycle of life is in verses 28 and 29. When God opens His hand, creation is satisfied. When God takes away breath, to dust all returns. In this too is a beauty because it is ordained and orchestrated by God.

In verse 30 the Spirit enters the story. With the Spirit we are created – the breath of life enters. As the Spirit continues to breathe life into us, “you renew the face of the earth”. To the grass, the trees, the birds… the breath of God’s Spirit brings the new leaves each spring… But to us, those created in God’s image, those who are counted as the children of God, this renewal is spiritual. Over and over the Holy Spirit sweeps through our lives, making us new again. The Spirit of God alive in us renews us over and over.

In verse 33 we read, “I will sing to the Lord all my life”. What an appropriate response to God’s renewing power in our lives. May we join the psalmist and all of creation today as we sing our joyful praise to the Lord!

Prayer: Creator God, thank you for tuning my heart and soul to the beauty of your creation. May I ever marvel at the works of your hand and may that always lead me to praise your wonderful name. Amen.


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A New Thing

Reading: Isaiah 43: 16-19a

Verses 18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing”.

Isaiah was a prophet of the Lord God who lived in the 7th century BC, at the time of the rise of the Assyrian empire. As a prophet he often wrote or spoke about Israel’s disobedience towards God and the consequences thereof. Isaiah also reminded the people of God’s covenant love for them. The opening verses of today’s passage, which point towards hope, are an example of this. Isaiah’s words are often referenced in the New Testament and are found in songs and other writings used in worship today.

In our passage God speaks to the people, through Isaiah. The passage begins with a reminder of a time when God’s hand was at work to save the Israelites. Just after their exodus from Egypt, Pharaoh sent the army to bring them back. But God parted the sea, allowed the Israelites to pass through, drew the Egyptians in, and closed the waters in over them, killing the entire army. It was a dramatic and powerful movement of God on behalf of His chosen people. During our lives we too experience times when God has done the same for us – intervened in a powerful way. Sometimes God rescues us, sometimes God restores us or renews us or provides for us. Each of the become a touchstone moment in our faith. Like the Red Sea experience for the Israelites, these are times we can look back on to find hope and strength for our current battle or struggle or trial.

God then changes directions and says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past”. The people must have been having a “woe is me” moment. They are aware of the storm rising on the horizon as the Assyrians grew in strength. Their current and soon to be circumstances must have felt overpowering. We too find ourselves here now and then. A life change ahead leaves us worried and fearful. Like the Israelites, we look for God to do another big thing.

But God is not going there. In verse 19, God says, “See, I am doing a new thing”. Be patient. Keep your eyes open. Look for how God is at work. What will God do in the midst of or in the aftermath of the storm? Don’t always expect grand and earth-moving. Trust and see what the Lord God is doing. Dig deep, allow God to work in God’s ways, transforming you along the way. See how God is at work in you!

Prayer: God of all possibilities, you are ever at work – in the world, in those around me, in me. Continue to be alive and active in my life, helping me to see the new thing. At times, help me to trust, to be patient, to wait upon you. Amen.