pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Lift High Your Voice

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 14-24

Verse 14: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”.

Psalm 118 is a song of praise. It is a great Psalm for the day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It begins with this powerful verse: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Yes, he is so good. Today we celebrate the Lord’s victory over both sin and death and we rejoice as we walk the path to eternal life that these victories open for all who declare Jesus the Lord of their lives.

The psalmist’s response to God’s goodness and love was to sing praises to God. Today in many churches the classic Easter songs will be played. Almost all of the singing will be done in individual homes (or maybe in cars at some places) as we celebrate Easter and worship “together” as we safely social distance. While I believe this practice is good and right and godly as it loves the most vulnerable among us, I must admit that I miss seeing my church family. It feels accentuated on a day like Easter. Yet I would trade a thousand days feeling like this to spare just one person from this illness. It is so because as my heart turns to the deeper reality of Easter, it is drawn to my personal relationship with Jesus. Easter, as is our relationship with Jesus, is a deeply personal and intimate connection. The simple fact is that Jesus would have died for just one sinner. He would have died for just you or me if we were the only sinner around. That is the depth of his love for you and for me and for the whole world. It is personal.

Verse fourteen spoke to me today as I read it. This verse reads, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”. As we worship the Lord our God on this holy Easter day, may we each claim the strength we find in God and may we lift our voices to praise the one who gives us our salvation and our hope. Christ is risen! Jesus is alive!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the gift of resurrection that you shared on that first Easter morning and that you continue to share with all who call on Jesus as Lord. Draw more in today, O God. Strengthen the throng. Amen.


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For me, for you, for us

Reading: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:13

Verse 53:5 – “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities… by his wounds we are healed”.

In these verses from the prophet Isaiah one can see and feel the connections to Jesus and to Good Friday that the very first Christians felt just after his death. The raising up and the exalting by God, the being despised and rejected by men, the taking up of our infirmities and the carrying of our sorrows – these verses all speak of Jesus and his last hours on this earth.

Today, on this day when Jesus goes to the cross, verse six stands out for me: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray”. Each of us turn our own way as we wander astray from Jesus. We do over and over. Yes, we do manage to die to some of our sins, but others seem to dog us all of our days: ego, pride, judging others, just to name a few of my struggles. Perhaps these are yours too or maybe you have a few of your own.

And then we come back around to verse five with me. Here we read, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities… by his wounds we are healed”. These words make both this day and my struggle with sin so much more real – pierced, crushed, wounds. Jesus paid a steep price just to get to the cross, to the place where he took on our sins. Then, there on the cross, Jesus paid for our sins with his blood and with his life. For me, a wandering sheep. For you, a wayward son or daughter. For us, the family of God. Thanks be to God. Again, thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, yes, God, thank you. Thank you Jesus for all you endured for me. Thank you God for allowing your son to walk that road for me. Thank you for doing what I could never do. Thank you for your love for me. Amen.


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Only in Surrender

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-31

Verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to address a division that has arisen. On one side of the divide are the Greeks. They love learning and discussing ideas. They look for and prize wisdom above all else. They want to know their way into believing in Jesus Christ. On the other side are the Jews. The Jews look for signs. This is how they had always recognized and identified the power of God at work. Way back the power of God was revealed in the manna and in the wall of Jericho falling down, just to name a couple of examples. More recently it shown as Jesus and the disciples healed and cast out demons. The Jews wanted to be awed into believing in Jesus.

Paul tells both sides that they are wrong. Both the Greeks and the Jews are looking in the wrong place if they want to find the power of Jesus Christ. In our opening verse Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. To the world the cross represents weakness and shame and wrong doing. To the world it was foolishness for Jesus to die on a cross like a common criminal. But the world is perishing. Paul instead reminds the Jews and Greeks that true power is found in the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus demonstrated servanthood and obedience. It was there that he became humble to death as he died to save us all. In his death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death and paved the way for us all to experience “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Just as Jesus was humble, we too must be humble as we approach faith. We cannot think our way into believing. Nor can we argue another into faith. We cannot “genie” our way to believing either. We cannot try and force God to prove he is real. We find faith when we come to the point of kneeling before Jesus, aware of our sin and our need for his grace, humbly asking him to be the Lord of our life. Only when we surrender do we find victory in Christ. It is more of that upside-down kingdom. When we are weak, he is strong. May we walk in surrender to our Lord and Savior today.

Prayer: Loving Father, you took me as I was, broken and filled with so many sins and weaknesses. Just like a potter, you went to work reforming and reshaping me, guiding me to your purposes. I am far from perfect. I beg you to continue to be at work in me. I surrender all to you for your glory. Amen.


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Upside Down

Reading: Psalm 36: 5-11

Verse 7b: “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”.

We begin Holy Week today with a Psalm that is not part of the revised common lectionary but is often read this week. As I began reading the first two verses, a song leapt into my mind. These words form the opening verse of “Your Love, O Lord” from Mercy Me. It is so appropriate as mercy forms one of the central thematic movements of Holy Week.

Mercy is centered first in love and compassion. Love leads us to have compassion for those close to us. Compassion becomes mercy when it is undeserved or cannot be earned. To extend mercy or to offer mercy, one must have compassion for the other. This week will seem to draw to a close with an act of great mercy as Jesus goes to the cross, taking on the sins of the world – my sins and your sins. There is a vastness in the love that Jesus offers in this act. Yet we know that victory over sin is not the only victory this week!

As I read the passage for today, the second half of verse seven clung to me. The ideas and emotions contained therein are near and dear to my heart. The verse reads, “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”. This verse shouts to me the vastness and wideness and inclusiveness of God’s love. Both the high and the low. Both men and women. Both the elderly and the children. Both the Black and the white and the Native and the Asian and the Mexican and the immigrant and the refugee. Every single person falls within the scope of God’s love. Every single one. And it does not stop with humanity either. The promise is to one day restore all of creation – a new heaven and a new earth. God’s love seeks to draw all of creation in.

The psalmist also writes of feasting on the “abundance of your house” and of drinking from God’s “river of delights”. This is God’s perfect plan – for a future day. As I look at the world it is plain to see that not all feast and not all drink. That is not the way of the world. As followers of Jesus Christ, it is here that we find one of our primary missions (see Matthew 26: 31-46). We are called to build God’s upside-down kingdom here on earth. That is the one where there are no rich or poor, no fed and hungry, no slave or free… In doing so we help the least and the broken and the lost to begin to experience verse nine: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light”. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I hear the call to action. Lead me to be a builder today. May your mercy and love flow in and through me. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Greater

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 3: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand”?

The psalmist begins by crying out to God. Unfortunately, I did not often begin here. I often ended up there, but I did not often begin there. I ended up there when I had failed or come up short, when my efforts were not enough, when I couldn’t just put my head down and push through.

My tendencies towards independence and self-sufficiency, coupled with a sometimes elevated sense of self, usually led me in the opposite direction of turning first to God. The combination of too many failures and crashes eventually coupled with a growing and maturing faith in God that has worked within me to produce a follower more likely to begin with prayer than not. Hindsight reveals that God has always been at work on my broken vessel.

Along the way I learned that my failures were sins, just as my not coming to God in prayer was a sin. In both cases I was placing other gods before God. The psalmist writes, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand”? This idea comes true when one realizes that God’s love and mercy are far greater than any and all sin. This was shown on the cross. As the psalmist continues, “with you there is forgiveness”. Not once or twice or even ten times, but forever and always. What a wonderful God we serve! May we serve him well today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for humbling me and breaking me down. Thank you for helping me to see that alone I was lost and destined to fail. Please continue to walk daily with me, guiding me to be a servant to all. Amen.


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One Step at a Time

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 4-14

Verse 9: “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”.

The dry bones in the valley represent Israel and the current condition of their collective faith. As the prophet sent to Israel during part of their exile, Ezekiel would have been well aware of the peoples’ sins and their current reality. This part that connected to their past probably saddened him greatly. The dry bones scattered across the valley floor are a stark and vivid reminder of their disobedient past. I can look back at seasons in my faith journey and can see how God would portray those times as a valley of dry bones. Most of us probably could. For others, maybe it feels like they are in the valley right now.

God says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”. God does not plan to leave the Israelites in this valley forever. God has a better future planned for his people. God has chosen Ezekiel to bring this word to his people. Knowing that God will bring new life to the nation of Israel would give Ezekiel and those who heard his prophetic message some hope. Knowing the end of the current story brings one hope in the valley, but it can be hard to wait and to walk faithfully towards the future that God has planned. It is hard because we want the better future NOW. The added challenge for the exiles is that their faith is dry. How does one walk faithfully with dry or no faith?

The answer is not complex: one step at a time. Ezekiel knew this was a vision, but he still obediently played his part. In one way this is a practice run. In reality he will seek to breath spiritual life into the people living in exile. Today, when one is in the valley or when one is living exiled from God, the steps are still the same: trust in God’s love, act on what God is leading you to, and rely on God’s power and strength for the journey. Each day may we see as God sees, stepping forward in faith.

Prayer: Loving God, when the future seems uncertain, give me the faith to take that first step. Through the power of the Holy Spirit guides me in obedience. Step by step may I follow. Amen.


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A Faith Story

Reading: John 9: 1-25

Verse 25: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see”!

The gospel lesson for this week reads like a short story. There are lots of twists and turns. The story begins as the disciples bring a blind man to Jesus’ attention. They want to know whose sin caused the blindness. Jesus shares that there is no one to blame. He tells them that the man was born blind so that “the glory of God might be displayed”. To facilitate this happening, Jesus makes some mud, places it on the blind man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. In Jesus’ day the pool would have been used for ritual cleansing. Miraculously, the man can now see.

Because the healing occurred on the Sabbath, an investigation begins. The man is brought in and questioned. He explains what happened. The Pharisees are divided: “No one holy would heal on the Sabbath”… or… “No one could heal if not holy”. They ask the man for his thoughts on Jesus: “He is a prophet”. The parents are then brought in to verify that this is their son and that he was indeed born blind. They confirm this but will not venture into speculating about Jesus. They are afraid of being put out of the synagogue.

The man who was born blind has no such fears. The religious leaders state, “We know this man is a sinner”. They want the man to go along with them. He does not. The power of his healing is greater than the power of control that the religious leaders are trying to use. All he knows is that this man put mud on his eyes and healed him. He says to the religious leaders, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see”! He acknowledges this simple truth about Jesus. It is his personal experience. It will become part of his testimony and part of his faith story.

Thinking of our own faith journeys, when has Jesus brought healing to you? Whether it was physical or emotional or spiritual or relational, we have all been touched by Jesus. Our experience is part of our story, part of our faith journey. Ponder your line: “I once was ___ but now I ___”.

Prayer: Lord God, I once was stuck living in the world too. I once lived for popularity and the approval of man. Now I find my trust and my contentment in you. Thank you for setting me free. Amen.


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Children of Light

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verses 8 and 10: “Live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord”.

Paul speaks to us today about light and darkness. The passage begins by reminding us that we were once in darkness. There was a time for all of us when we did not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But once we made the good confession, we became children of the light. We may stray into darkness once in a while, but the light reminds us of where we’ve wandered and through the power of the Holy Spirit we are drawn back to the light. Paul encourages us today to “live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord”. As Christians, this should just be our norm.

How do we know what pleases the Lord? The Bible is full of advice! It is mostly found in the gospels, in the life of Jesus. We please God when our love for him and for the other is greater than our love for self. In Jesus’ life and teachings that boiled down to loving the poor and the marginalized, to caring for the sick and the sinful, to being obedient to the Father, and to offering acts of reconciliation and forgiveness to those we have harmed and to those who have harmed us. Some, maybe even many, of these things are challenging. It is a narrow road. Nonetheless, living a life of service to God and to others is what pleases God.

Even in this day and season of fear and social distancing we are still called to be “children of the light”. We have many ways to safely love our neighbors. We have lots of time to study the gospels to deepen our faith and our understanding of our call as disciples. In all we do and say, may we continue to be a fruitful offering to God. May we all be pleasing in his sight.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for opening my eyes and heart. Please continue to lead and guide us to be people of light. Keep us safe as we engage the world in this scary time. May we be a blessing to others. Amen.


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That Whoever Believes…

Reading: John 3: 1-17

Verse 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”.

Nicodemus is a man steeped in religious knowledge. His head is full of a lot of information. He lives mostly in the world of his head, but something is tugging at his heart. That is why he has come to see Jesus. His mind cannot identify the feeling he has but it cannot deny it either. We all have been where Nicodemus is. We want to try and think our way through it, but we cannot. We must experience it by allowing ourselves to feel it. Too often our reaction is to resist or deny or avoid. To go where the Spirit is leading is unknown, out of control, scary – so we do not allow ourselves to go there.

In today’s passage Jesus drives the conversation with Nicodemus. The Pharisee struggles with the idea of being born of the Spirit. Yes, the Old Testament speaks of a prophet who was guided by or even carried by the Spirit. But to be born again? To be born of the Spirit? Being made new and becoming part of God’s family sounds so familiar to our ears. But consider Nicodemus’ context for a moment. He was a part of Judaism since birth. There was no need for rebirth – you were born into the Jewish faith. No outreach or evangelism branch exists in the temple. The circle was closed. Converting to Judaism is a much more modern phenomena. In Nicodemus’ day one was either born a Jew or one was a Gentile. To be born again, into the family of God, just would not fit their context.

So Jesus shifts gears. He sees this is too big a step for Nicodemus to take at once. So he plants a seed. In verse fourteen Jesus connects what Moses offered in the desert to what he will offer from the cross. Nicodemus does not get it yet. But he will one day. In the desert Moses offered relief from the consequences of their sin. Look up at the snake and be saved from this sin. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he will also be lifted up, not just to atone for one sin but for all sins. He tells him that all who look in faith to Jesus can have eternal life. Jesus sums up his mission in verses sixteen and seventeen. Out of love Jesus came to save us from sin and death. All who believe in him as Lord and Savior will receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus shares that he did not come to condemn the world but to save it. Through Christ, God offers love and mercy, grace and forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life in his presence. This is offered to one and all. Jesus came to save the whole world. In parting he asked all disciples to join him in this task. May we do so each and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, as I enter the day, may I be light and love in the places I dwell. May I be the light that shines the focus on your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ. To you be the glory! Amen.


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Decision Points

Reading: Genesis 12: 1-4a

Verse 1: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”.

As human history begins and the world gets started, the general direction is downhill. It began in a beautiful way in the garden but soon sin corrupted even that place. The flood was only a temporary reset. Sin and evil began to flourish almost as soon as Noah and family exited the ark. Today we turn to Abram. He was chosen by God to be another starting point.

God identifies Abram and one day says to him: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”. Imagine how hard that might be to do – especially when the destination is unknown. Pack up everything and I’ll let you know which way to go. Talk about taking a step of faith. God chose the right guy. Abram is just one of many who obediently step out in faith.

We too come to decision points in our lives. What college or major? Is he/she the one for me? Do we accept this job and move to ___? Am I being called to change careers? The answers to these questions (and more like them) do much to shape and form who we become. While this is true, I believe the line goes something like this: “The proof is in the details”. The decisions and choices that we make each and every day are what really reveal who and whose we are. The ways we love God and love others, the faith and trust that guides our lives, the compassion and grace that steers our relationships, the humble servsnt’s heart – these are the qualities that lead us to our career, to our spouse…

calls out to us each day as the Holy Spirit leads, guides, convicts, corrects, nudges, whispers. At each big decision point and at every small decision point, may our faith be our guide. If put to it like Abram was, may we too step out in faith, trusting fully in God.

Prayer: Lord God, the decisions I make today – the thoughts, the words, the actions – all shape and form me. They lead to who I will be tomorrow. Shape and form me more into your image. Amen.