pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Loving God and Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 11: 16-19

Verse 18: “John came neither eating or drinking… The Son of Man came eating and drinking”.

Today’s passage from Matthew is part of Jesus’ response to John the Baptist asking if Jesus really is the one to come, “or should we expect someone else”? John is in prison for speaking the truth against the political leader. From prison he sees Jesus’ ministry as much different than his own. John had gone into the wilderness, away from the trappings of the world. There he lived a very pious life as he called people to repentance in preparation for the coming Messiah. He baptized people into a renewed walk with God. The religious came to John to find faith once again. John baptized Jesus himself and heard God declare Jesus his beloved Son. And now, as he sees Jesus doing ministry in a different way, he questions if Jesus is the one.

Today, one way we demonstrate our love of God is by gathering for worship. Another way we demonstrate our love of God is by serving others through the sharing of our time, our resources, and of ourselves. Although in a place without walls, John had a specific place where he ministered. To see and hear John preach and to be baptized, one went to John. To him, his life of simplicity and piety modeled a faithful relationship with God. In these ways, John was much like the Pharisees and other religious leaders. Yet John clashed with them because he saw that they loved the law more than they loved God. But like John, they said come to the temple, follow our rules, be like us. Neither John nor the religious leaders had much understanding of Jesus’ forms of ministry. He was radically different.

Jesus went to the sinners and tax collectors and other outsiders. He sought them out and then he sat and ate with them, forming relationships. The religious accused Jesus of touching and eating with the unclean and the impure. They saw him fellowshipping with them and labeled him a “glutton and a drunkard“. Jesus chose to get outside the established walls of the temple and synagogues – to go to the people who would not enter these places. He went to those who felt unwelcomed, to those who felt unworthy, to those who were outcasts and who were marginalized. Jesus often went to the non-religious so that they too could live a life of faith. Why? To demonstrate that all people are worthy of God’s love, to show that all people are welcome in God’s family.

As Christians we are called to love God and to bring him our praise and worship as we lift his name on high. As Christians we are called to love neighbor as we minister to them in Jesus’ name. This also lifts his name on high. May we always seek to do both. Faith is not an either/or. As we love God and neighbor, we are living out our gospel imperative to transform the world. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, may my faith and love be clear to you and to the world. May my thoughts, words, and actions bring you the praise and glory. Amen.


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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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The Opportunity

Reading: Acts 2: 37-41

Verse 39: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”.

The people that were drawn to the place that the church was gathered feel remorse over their role in crucifying Jesus. Yesterday we felt our role so today we can relate to how they felt. Their question of Peter is, “What shall we do”? Their hearts told them they needed to respond. It is a familiar feeling, isn’t it? We have felt it when we see someone in great need. We have felt it when we have sinned and have felt the conviction.

Peter’s response is basic Christianity 101: “Repent and be baptized”. Leave your old way of life and enter into new life with Jesus Christ. Leave behind your sinful ways and begin to walk as a follower of Jesus Christ. Leave behind not only your sins but the guilt and shame that we often associate with wrong-doing. In this case, Peter wants them to leave behind their remorse for their role in the crucifixion. Only then can they claim their new resurrection life as they begin to walk as new creations in Christ. As they make the good confession and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they too will receive what drew them to this time and place – the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Then, in verse 39, we see Peter beginning to understand just what Jesus meant when he gave the great commission. In verse 39 Peter says, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”. The idea of making disciples of all nations and of going to the ends of the earth are starting to settle into Peter. God will continue to work in and through Peter to make the gospel known. Many others will have a hand in sharing the good news – James and John and the other disciples, Paul and Timothy and Silas. The first disciples will teach new disciples. The work will continue on. The list of disciples of Jesus Christ goes on down through the ages. It continues to grow in 2020. The range of the church expands and now the gospel reached around the globe.

Yet there are still places that the good news of Jesus Christ has not yet taken root. One might be just down the street. One might be in the next office over from yours. One might be in the pew next to you when we once again can gather together. Peter took the opportunity to share the gospel as the opportunity presented itself. 3,000 were added to the church that day. May we, like Peter, make the most of the opportunities that God gives us. May we share the promises of resurrection with a world in need of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to share the good news today in whatever form I can. Give me words to speak, prayers to offer, actions to take. Lead me by the power of your Holy Spirit. 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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Call of Faith

Reading: Genesis 2:15-17 through 3:1-7

Verse 6: “the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye… took some and ate it”.

As we prepare to enter into the season of Lent, we face a decision. Will this just be another six weeks that we go to church on Sundays or will it be a season, a time to really wrestle with our faith? Will these forty days be about preparing our soul to meet Jesus at the empty tomb on Easter morning? Will Lent be about becoming fully ready to die to self as Jesus did on the cross or will self remain on the throne of our hearts?

Ever since the first people walked the earth there has been a battle waged in our hearts. It is a battle between doing God’s will versus allowing our own will to make the decisions and choices. To me the garden scene is like the Last Supper scene. Someone was going to betray Jesus. It did not really matter who. In the garden someone was going to eat from the forbidden tree. In both cases, evil found a way to winnow in and create separation between a person and God. Isn’t that the same way sin works in our lives?

The fruit just hung there. It looked good and had some benefits. A piece was taken and eaten. Eyes that had been innocent now saw themselves and the world around them differently. Selfishness had been elevated over the relationship with God. Humanity’s will had been chosen over God’s will. This is a choice we wrestle with over and over every single day. Our sense of self is engrained in us from an early age. The call of faith to walk this life as a humble servant is constantly at odds with this sense of self.

The journey of Lent is about the lessening the self-will and the increasing of God’s will. It is about looking deep within our souls and seeing that which separates us from God and doing God’s will. What we each see will be vast and varied. Some things will die relatively easily and others will require great effort. May we each resolve to admit that we are fallen and broken and may we seek God’s love and mercy so that we can be made into new creations.

Prayer: Lord God, as I enter the season of repentance and introspection, give me the courage to look deep and grant me the strength to purge those things that separate me from you or that limit my walk with you. Take me and make me fully thine. 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.