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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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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The Gift

Reading: Romans 5: 12-19

Verse 16: “The judgment followed one one and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification”.

At times I have known people who take the time to be present. After an unexpected loss many years ago my old youth pastor was that person for me. We spent hours together as I worked out my grief. To me it felt like he would’ve sat and listened and talked forever. He made me feel like I was all that there was in the world to him. God seemed to reside in his very being. Have you ever been in the presence of someone like that?

The process that we are invited to walk through in Lent leads us to become more of who God created us to be. Jesus was one who focused right in on whoever was before him and they became all that mattered. In Lent we are called to look within and to search out those parts of ourselves that are selfish and that are focused on the things of this world. These parts of each of us prevent us from being able to truly focus on the other. When we seek to rid ourselves of these things we become more like Jesus and then we will begin to see the other.

In the garden, Adam turned and focused on self. In a moment he stepped outside of a right relationship with God. Sin became part of humanity’s struggle. In verse sixteen we read, “The judgment followed one one and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification”. God did not leave us dead in our sins. The gift of Jesus Christ was given to us so that sin and death would not be the end. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, he who gifts us the victory.

Prayer: Father God, you are so, so good to me. I deserve much less but you are so much more. Thank you for your grace, your love, your mercy, your forgiveness – all to make me new again. I love 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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The Light of Christ

Reading: John 1: 1-9

Verse 4: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men”.

The first five verses of John are my favorite opening verses in the four gospels. John does not begin with an introduction or with a greeting but dives right in. In these five verses John connects Jesus to before the beginning of time and then to the creation of all things. Since forever Jesus has been with God. Considering these things makes it even more amazing that Jesus will take on flesh and dwell among us in this messy, ugly, sin-infested world. In the flesh Jesus will come face to face with temptation and will experience the trials and sufferings of human life.

In verse four we read more about life. Here John writes, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men”. John is not just talking about our physical life here. Our bodies, our physical lives, are no doubt in Jesus’ hands. But the life that John speaks of is the life lived as a follower of Christ. Non-believers have physical life in them but they live mostly without hope, peace, contentment, joy, grace, a divine presence… Life without Christ is a shallow and hollow existence. It is a life that leads one to ask, “Is this all”? The light of Christ is what fills us with his Spirit and leads us to walk this life differently. The light is a real presence to us, guiding us and our steps – through the valleys of the shadows, up to the mountain peaks, and everywhere in between.

The light also elevates our life. Because it shines in the darkness our walk does not tread the paths of sin as often. Yes, as fallen human flesh we do sin. But the light of Christ quickly reveals that and we follow the light back to the narrow way of the cross. We do battle jealousy and envy and gossip and ego and greed and… at times, but it is not our normal state. People of the world dwell in these realms – in the darkness – and they cannot overcome their sin. Only be walking in the light of Christ can we overcome our sins and our temptations. Only in and through Christ Jesus can we claim victory over sin and death. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are my true light. Shine ever brighter into my heart and onto my path. Guide me not only by your light but also by the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit. Thank you Lord for your abiding presence. Thank you God! Amen.


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Guide Our Feet

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 76: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him”.

As we recall from yesterday, God raised up a “horn of salvation” to redeem his people, offering them mercy and salvation. Jesus Christ is the one who will rescue them and enable them to live holy and righteous lives. Those who believe in Jesus will not fear because Jesus brings victory over our true enemies: sin and death. Starting in verse 76 we shift to the second half of Zechariah’s song. Here the prophesy becomes intimately personal.

Probably holding his newborn son aloft, Zechariah joyfully sings verses 76 through 79. He begins with “And you, my child…”. His own son will be a prophet of the Most High. His own son “will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him”. His own son will prepare people’s hearts and minds to be ready to accept Jesus as the Messiah. John’s role and ministry will be integral to the success of Jesus’ ministry. John will offer a baptism of forgiveness as he calls people to repent of their sins and to “make straight” their lives. All this in preparation for the coming Messiah. John will create fertile ground for Jesus.

In verse 79 we read that Jesus will “shine on those living in darkness”. Sometimes this will be painful. In our day and in our lives, the living Jesus continues to shine light into our darkness. Because he lives in us in spirit, Jesus continues to illuminate the dark corners of our hearts and the areas of sin that we try and keep hidden. There we are living in the “shadow of death”. If that is you, may you hear anew John the Baptist’s call: repent of your sins and seek Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. As Zechariah sang, Jesus still wants to “guide our feet into the path of peace”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for the gift of John the Baptist, he who reminds us today of our essential practice of repentance. Humble me today to honestly look within, to see where sin has taken root. Grant me the courage to die to that part of myself – to all the parts that are not pleasing to you. Then guide me, O great Jehovah, to walk the path of peace. Amen.


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God’s Plan

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 69: “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David”.

Today’s passage comes early in Jesus’ birth narrative. So far in Luke, the births of John the Baptist and Jesus have been foretold. Zechariah doubted the angel Gabriel’s birth announcement and was struck silent. Mary has visited her cousin Elizabeth. Zechariah has been unable to speak for nine months. He is finally able to speak after naming his son John, in accordance with Gabriel’s directions. Zechariah is then filled with the Holy Spirit and gives us today’s prophesy.

Zechariah begins by praising God for coming to redeem his people. He connects into our reading from the past two days (Jeremiah 23:1-6) as he says, “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David”. Zechariah echoes Jeremiah’s prophesy that promises a righteous branch will come from David’s line. Zechariah also echoes the praises for salvation and mercy that will come from this shepherd king. Zechariah also notes how blessed we will be as followers of this king. We will be able to serve him all our days without fear because his holiness and righteousness will be our holiness and righteousness. This is because Jesus Christ will become both the Lord of life and the Lord over death. In Christ alone we find victory over both sin and death. Praise God!

As we draw near to the end of the Christian year and prepare to begin a new year as Advent dawns on December 1, it is good to remember the roots of our faith. Just as the first part of Zechariah’s song connected back to Jeremiah, the second part also finds roots in the Old Testament. In the second half of his song, Zechariah connects back to Isaiah. The plan just beginning to unfold as we near Advent has been at work for a long time. In fact, since before the creation of the world.

As we live out our faith today and in the weeks to come we will surely enjoy God’s mercy, grace, protection, and salvation. We too are part of God’s plan to redeem and restore the world. May we also choose to serve without fear, being light and love to all the world. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Redeeming Lord, as the evils of this world rise up, shield me. As the temptations to sin creep in, extinguish those flames. As opportunities come to serve you, gird me up and lead me out to proclaim your love and mercy. Amen.