pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Desert Places

Reading: Luke 3: 4-6

Verse 4: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord'”.

Photo credit: Mariya Tarakhnenko

Today we continue with the call to draw others towards Jesus Christ. Luke quotes from the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord'”. The one “filled with the Holy Spirit from birth” will “go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:15) to make ready the people for the coming of the Messiah. John preached into these prophetic words, bringing many to the place of being ready to “see God’s salvation.”

Today let us consider the desert places as we think deeper into our call to do what John did, preparing the way for Jesus Christ. The desert is often seen as a place that is dry and without life. When thinking of getting out there to share our faith we often see desert places as challenging places to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Some may see the homeless as such a place. Others see the fancy cigar bars and country clubs as such places. Some see certain professions as such places. Others see certain age groups as such places.

As we think about the charge to make disciples of all people, we realize that we are not all able or gifted to go to all places. Although everyone is born in the image of God, we are each also uniquely created. Our uniqueness is something that can draw us to another’s desert place. There we can offer the living water found in a relationship with Jesus. There our gifts and abilities can connect to the image of God within the other, helping to prepare the way for the Lord. As we seek out those unique places and people whom the Lord is calling us to, may we also trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide.

Prayer: Lord God, you created me just as I am, with unique gifts, talents, interests, compassions. Use these to guide me to those who need to hear of your love and saving grace. Amen.


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Into All the World

Reading: Luke 3: 1-3

Verse 3: “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Today and tomorrow we focus on John the Baptist beginning to live into his call. It is something that he has probably heard about all of his life. At family gatherings, at birthdays, at Passover and other religious holidays that reflect on God’s saving power, in private moments with Zechariah and Elizabeth… John has heard and heard of the angel visits and of the words spoken over his life. John has heard again and again the story of how he leapt in the womb when he heard Mary’s voice. In about 29 AD John answers the call. We read, “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke lists the men in positions of power, both politically and religiously, in our passage today. The word of God does not go to them. It comes to John and he begins his ministry. John does not enter the halls or places of power but goes out into the area around the Jordan River. He preaches about living a holier life and the repentance necessary to live such a life. He preaches about the coming kingdom and what people must do to be a part of that kingdom. He preaches about being made right with God. What John the Baptist preaches isn’t easy to hear. But it is truth. And it is filled with hope and promise. Ears and hearts are eager to receive the words that John is sharing. It is good news.

Although the angels did not predict our births or speak to our parents about how we will fulfill our calls, we too have the same call as John the Baptist had. Jesus charged all disciples with the task of going to all people to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28: 19-20.) He did not say, ‘Go, hang out in the church and talk about me’. He said to go out into all the world. Like John hearing about his call, we too have heard over and over about the charge to go out to share the good news. For John, the call was to the region around the Jordan. For me, it is to the Piedmont Valley. Where is your place? To whom is God calling you?

Prayer: Lord, may I be faithful in sharing the good news in the places and with the people that you send me to. Amen.


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Love Well

Reading: Philippians 1: 3-11

Verse 9: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

Paul begins his letter to the church in Philippi with a prayer. Paul was a man of deep prayer. He had long been a Pharisee – a man with a great understanding of the Old Testament scriptures. In his powerful encounters with the risen Christ he had been transformed, made into a new creation in Christ. Paul became his new name. The shift from Saul to Paul symbolized his new calling to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. Saul the Jew became Paul the Christian.

Paul begins his prayer with words of thanksgiving and joy. Paul celebrates the ongoing partnership in the gospel. He shares his confidence that God will complete the good work begun in this group of believers. Paul shares that his joy comes from knowing that they all share in God’s grace together. These words, this prayer – all things we too can pray for and with our own communities of faith.

In verse nine Paul offers these words: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Paul’s prayer centers on the love of God becoming more and more abundant in the lives of these believers. Loving God and loving others is our primary witness to our faith. These two are intertwined, interconnected. But note what this love is founded upon: knowledge and depth of insight. For Paul, knowing Jesus Christ and understanding his call upon our lives is what fuels our ability to love. It is not some “make others feel good” type of love. It is not some “look how well I love” type of love. It is a love founded upon understanding Christ’s example and upon understanding our call to make disciples of all people. Living into this kind of love allows us to discern how to love best, how to be pure and blameless in our love, and how to be filled with the fruit of righteousness. As we seek to love well today, may it bring glory and praise to God.

Prayer: Lord God, use me as a conduit of your love today. Help me to understand the depth of your love and to model and reflect that love to the world. In this way may others come to know you and your love. Amen.


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Others Will Be Drawn

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

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

Photo credit: Shane

Today we continue in Zechariah’s song, turning to the role that John plays. While on duty in the temple Zechariah is visited by the angel Gabriel. The angel tells of John’s birth and of the role he will play. In verse seventeen we read, “He will go before the Lord… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Upon John’s birth Zechariah shares this in his song. In verse 76 we read, “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” John the Baptist will serve faithfully, speaking God’s truths, drawing them back towards God. John preached about the forgiveness of sins and offered a baptism of repentance, a symbolic cleansing to the Jews. John lived a life of service, helping people to prepare their hearts for the time when they would meet Jesus. This too is our call.

In one of the devotionals that I read there is this great line from Linda Furtado: “Part of being people after God’s desires is choosing to serve as the presence others need, stretching ourselves to love in ways that reflect God’s love.” We begin by knowing God’s desires. Primary among them is God’s desire to have a saving relationship with all people. We must them choose to be God’s loving presence to others. Sometimes this is being like John – calling others to a holier life, speaking hard truths. Sometimes this is coming alongside another in their time of need. Often God will call us to stretch ourselves, to get out of our comfort zones. If we are willing, the Holy Spirit will lead us to people, to places, and into situations that stretch us. It is there that we rely more deeply on God’s Holy Spirit presence within us. Once there we are called to love others as God loves us. When we live out our faith in these ways, others will be drawn towards the Savior of the world. Doing so we live into the words of Zechariah: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” Hear these words today, spoken over you by the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, above all you are love. Lead me out beyond myself, having eyes to see needs and a heart to respond. In and through me may others know of your love for them. Amen.


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A Personal God

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verses 78-79: “Because of the tender mercy of our God… guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Photo credit: Ruthson Zimmerman

Today and tomorrow we spend time with Zechariah’s song. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he offers these words of praise and thanksgiving. These words speak of God’s provision and guidance and of the role his son John will play in the coming kingdom of God. Today we focus on God’s provision and guidance.

Zechariah begins by praising God for coming to redeem the faithful. Pointing towards Jesus, Zechariah praises God for the “horn of salvation” that has come through the house of David. The one that the “holy prophets of long ago” spoke of will bring mercy, will rescue the people from their enemies, and will “enable them to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness.” In Jesus, God will fulfill all this and more. Mercy will come with grace, love, kindness, and justice. The people will be freed from oppression as well as from the chains of sin and death. A new obedience and love of God and neighbor will come along with renewed holiness and righteousness.

In the closing verses we read, “Because of the tender mercy of our God… guide our feet into the path of peace.” There is a personal aspect of God found in these words. It is a tender mercy that God offers. There is compassion and intimacy in tender mercy. The image of God guiding us into peace is also a very personal image. It is as if God holds each of us by the hand and walks alongside us, God’s peace radiating around us, enveloping us. Yes, Jesus Christ came to redeem the world. He also came to redeem you and me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you are amazing. You love all of creation. And you love each aspect of creation. In your mighty and awesome power you not only oversee all things, you are also present to us personally. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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Refined and Purified

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

Photo credit: Kim West

Today in Malachi we move forward from the ancient to the present. The process that God described as necessary for the priests and the temple is also necessary for our faith development. John the Baptist began the process as he prepared the way for the one who would call each of us into a personal relationship with the Lord our God. It is through this relationship that we are refined and purified.

In verse three we read, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” No matter how we come to Christ as Lord and Savior – whether through a slow and steady process or in a moment of sudden realization of our need – all who believe come to a moment of decision. At that moment we ask Jesus into our heart, into our lives. We make a commitment to giving Jesus authority over all areas of our lives. We commit our time, energy, resources, talents, finances… to loving God/Jesus and neighbor more than self. Just as a couple joins hands and commits to a lifelong covenant, so too do we in this moment of decision. We commit to love no matter what.

If you are or ever have been married or been in a long-term relationship, you know that some days it is hard to love the other. Our own selfish desires and many other distractions cause us to stumble and to fail to honor our commitment. Here is where the refiner and purifier steps in. Over and over Jesus Christ, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, calls us back to love. Through the process of conviction, confession, repentance, and forgiveness we are refined and purified. Each time through we are remade again, each time a little closer to the image of God within us. For our part we must stay connected to Jesus Christ through worship, study, prayer… We also must remain open to the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit and to the working of God in our lives. If so we will become more and more like those Malachi speaks of: people who offer all of ourselves to God and neighbor in righteousness. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to hearing and knowing your voice. Drive down my pride and ego so that I may see my faults and sins. Elevate my humility so that I gladly accept your loving hand, leading, guiding, correcting, refining, purifying. Moment by moment make me more like you. Amen.


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See? Recognize? Heed?

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 1: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.”

Photo credit: Chase Murphy

The prophet Malachi was sent by God to the Levites, the priests. They were offering imperfect animals on the altar – the blind, the diseased, the crippled. The priests had turned from God’s ways and had “caused many to stumble.” Malachi admonishes them and tells of a coming day of judgment. As I consider God’s case against the priests, I wonder what words Malachi would relay to us today. Is our offering similar to theirs? Do we give to God a portion dedicated up front or do we wait to the end of the month to see what we have left that we can spare? Do we always live an upright and holy life or do we fall into gossip circles and other sins that diminish our witness?

Beginning in chapter three God lays out the plan for change. The detestable and unfaithful behaviors will come to an end. In verse one the Lord Almighty says, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” About 400 years later the messenger will come. John the Baptist will offer a baptism of repentance, calling the people of God to a holy and faithful life. Although it is more comfortable and much easier to stay where we are at, to pretend that our faith is okay, to act as if we have no sin in our lives, the messenger draws crowds. John spoke to the hole in people’s hearts that only God can fill. Many came to confess and repent, to be baptized and cleansed. The people saw their imperfections and longed for a deeper, better, stronger faith. They saw their need and responded to the one preparing the way for the Lord.

Do we see our need for God? Do we recognize our imperfections? Are we willing to heed the words of the prophet? Will we humbly approach the Lord of mercy and grace, seeking to be made new again?

Prayer: Lord God, give me an honest walk of faith. Open my eyes to my areas of darkness and sin. Shine your light on my failures and imperfections. Pour out your grace and mercy, drawing me closer to you. Amen.


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Be Always Alert

Reading: Luke 21: 29-36

Verse 34: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down… and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”

In our second half of the Luke 21 passage Jesus first calls us to see the signs of new life all around us. In the natural world the leaves sprout as the weather warms, indicating new life on the way. In the world of faith, Jesus calls us to see the signs of new life all around us. When we are aware of Jesus’ presence in and around us, we live fully in the kingdom of God here on earth. This is one of the invitations of the Advent season.

In our lives we can become so busy this time of year. Busyness is one of our main distractions. In verse 34 Jesus warns against this, saying, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down… and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” Be careful or January 1 will suddenly be here. Be careful or we will miss the “Christ” in Christmas. Jesus is spot on in what distracts us. He begins with “dissipation” – the wasteful consumption of material things. Just one more present… a Christmas a little bigger and better than last year… Jesus then moves on to “drunkenness”. This entails more than alcohol. Can’t we fit in just one more party? Can’t we fit just a few more guests around the table? Can you pass the mashed potatoes? He closes this list with “the anxieties of life”. We can worry about pleasing friends and family. We can stress about being enough, doing enough, giving enough. We can worry about paying the tab – both monetarily and physically – after the holidays end. All of these things can distract us from the signs of new life all around us during this Advent season.

This Advent season, may we “be always on the watch”, living fully in the light and love of Jesus Christ present all around us. To see them we must look for the signs of Christ during this season. Doing so may we live a life worthy of our calling, thus sharing the light and love with the world.

Prayer: Lord God, each day draw me to your light and love. Open my heart and eyes to signs of your love all around me. Light up this season with your presence. Amen.


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Closer to our Redemption

Reading: Luke 21: 25-28

Verse 28: “Stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near.”

Photo credit: Felipe Correia

As the early Christians read Luke’s gospel, as they read these words of Jesus, they were living in difficult times. Persecution had ramped up and most believers lived in fear. Many were being jailed and some were even being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. They looked forward to the second coming, which they thought was imminent. As they see these signs that Jesus spoke of starting to unfold, they are hopeful. What is bad news for the world – nations in anguish, men fainting in terror – is good news for the believers. As they read “at that time…” many thought the time of persecution was drawing to a close. To those finding hope, Jesus says, “Stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” These words of Jesus give hope, build courage, and empower the faithful.

The promise that redemption draws near continues to be true. Just as the early followers learned as they lived out their faith, so too do we learn as we live out our faith: when we stand up for our faith, when we raise our heads and voices for justice, equality, goodness… then Jesus draws near. When we walk with and at times uplift the needy, the broken, the marginalized, the powerless, then we are drawing close and walking hand in hand with the one who redeems us.

These words of Jesus call us to remain faithful, to walk in faith no matter what goes on around us or in the world, to stand up and speak truth, and to cling to our Lord and Savior in times of trouble. Our redeemer is steadfast and true. He is ever faithful and present. Yes, one day Jesus will come in “a cloud with power and glory.” One day Christ will return to reign forevermore. Each day may we walk in faith, drawing closer to our redemption day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, whether it be a day or many years, walk with me, shaping me more and more into who you call me to be. Daily walk with me, filling me with your love and power and strength. Until the day of my redemption, lead and guide me. Amen.


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Modeling Our Belief

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Verse 12: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.”

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Our passage today speaks again of love. Paul begins by thanking God for the joy found in the church in Thessalonica. Paul longs to be with them and to continue to encourage them in their faith. Paul asks that God would “clear the way” for him and his companions to return. Even though Paul fled under duress and even though the church is still being persecuted, Paul still longs to return to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is into this reality that Paul writes verse twelve. Now more than ever must the love of God be made known. Here he writes, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.” To make love known, it is first God who supplies the love and the power to increase that love. God is the source; God is the one that makes it grow. Second, faith begins with love for one another. Living out their faith in a hostile world required a deep bond between the believers. They could comfort and encourage and support and strengthen one another. Third, their faith was modeled in how they loved the world around them – those in need, those who were searching, and even those who persecuted them. Love for the other was their primary public witness to their faith and to God’s love for all of creation.

The church modeled love. Loving God, loving one another, and loving the world around them, the early church modeled their belief, their faith. As followers of Jesus Christ they were strengthened, made more blameless and more holy, readied ever more for the day of the Lord. May we too model this belief, growing day by day in our faith. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, today may I love you with my whole heart. In my life may that love overflow into the lives of all I meet – into all the world! Amen.