pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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 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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Filled with Love

We can express our love for God in many ways.  It can be expressed in worship, in our daily disciplines, in our service to others, and in how we treat our neighbors.  The love we share with others wells up and out of the love of God within and for us.  When we share this love of God with others, they too can come to know that love themselves.

But at times we can “do” things without really loving.  Have you ever gone to church on a Sunday morning when you really did not want to?  You smile and chat, bow you head and sing along, maybe even nod approvingly during the sermon – but inside you are not present or engaged.  Ever been of service because it was expected?  You go and help cook and serve the meal at the mission but inside of you there is apathy or maybe the resentment and anger are just below the surface.  In these and similar situations, the love of God seems far away.  In times like these we are the clanging symbols Paul writes of in today’s passage.

We get to this place a number of ways, but there are two primary ways.  First, we forget to be thankful to God.  If we are not intentional about making time daily to be thankful to God for our many blessings, it can be easy to forget how much He loves us.  Without His love filling us up, we have little true love to offer others.  The second way is we forget to love ourselves.  Being a constant well of love to others leaves us empty inside.  We can be so busy being in ministry to others that we do not allow ourselves the Sabbath we need.  In this too we must be intentional.  We are at our best loving God and loving others when we have a thankful and rested heart, filled with God’s love for us.  Then we can truly offer His love to the world.

Scripture reference: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3 & 13


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Piety – Inward and Outward

In Matthew 6 Jesus offers some tips on how we should and shouldn’t do a few things.  He advises that when we give to the needy, that we don’t make a big show of it.  He suggests that we even go so far as to give with one hand without the other even knowing about it.  He advises that when we pray we go into a quiet room.  He advises that when we fast we wash our face and make ourselves appear healthy so that others do not know we are fasting.  Jesus tells us that God knows all we do in secret and will reward us.  He is cautioning the religious leaders who like to stand before men when they pray or give.  Jesus says they have received their reward – just recognition from men.  Jesus concludes by summarizing why we should give, pray and fast as he advises – because then we are storing up treasures in heaven.

At first I thought this an odd reading on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  Lent is traditionally a season of self-examination and reflection, a season where we give something up or choose to do something ‘extra’ for others.   But then I realized the cautions of Matthew 6 are for us too.  Today is a day when many will wear the mark of the ashen cross on the forehead as a reminder of our faith.  If the cross on our forehead is simply a mark of religious piety, then we have already received our reward in full too.  If it is a personal reminder of the inner transformation taking place then it is between us and God, not as a show for the world.  If our inner change is leading to greater worship and praise of God and into humble acts of kindness to our  fellow man, then we are beginning to store up those treasures in heaven.  Now it is not about keeping score on a secret scorecard.  It is about living as a child of God.  As with Abraham, it is through right living that we too are counted righteous.

The ashen cross on our forehead can also be a conversation starter.  If a non-believer asks about it, we can explain the meaning.  In our church we use Psalm 51:10 as we administer ashes: “Create in your child a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within him/her.”  Lent is a season of giving to God and of sacrifice to remind ourselves of the repentance we must offer.   The ashen cross is also a mark of ownership – to say that we belong to Christ.  Ashes are used to remind us that we are mortal and also that Jesus chose to die for our sins.  As we go through our day today, may we allow that inner light of Christ to shine forth.  May the cross we bear in our heart (and maybe the one we bear on our forehead too) be a sign of our inward piety and may it also be a reminder that we are called to be spent in faithful service to our God and to our fellow man.