pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Our Great and Glorious King

Reading: Psalm 72:1-7

Verse 6: “He will be like rain falling on a mown field.”

Today’s Psalm speaks of a leader. Justice and righteousness will be hallmarks of this king. Defending the afflicted and saving needy children will be regular practices. There will be prosperity in the land. Who is this king that Solomon describes?

In verse 5 we get another hint. Here we read that this king will “endure as long as the sun, as the moon.” Without using the word, Solomon tells us that this king will reign forever. Add in justice, righteousness, care for the poor and needy – who else could this be but Jesus Christ the Lord?

Within these verses we also see other sides of Christ. In verses 4 Solomon writes, “He will crush the oppressor.” Sin and death long held power over humanity. In his death and resurrection Jesus will defeat these two great oppressors of humankind. And we also have verse 6: “He will be like rain falling on a mown field.” In my mind I want it to read “gentle rain.” This would add to the sense of peace that I already feel in these words. I love this side of Jesus too. A kind and peaceful and gentle ruler – like rain falling gently on a mown field.

Psalm 72 reminds us of our great and glorious King. Today we rejoice as we close with the last two verses of the Psalm: “Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with God’s glory. Amen.”

Prayer: God, you are the king of kings and lord of lords, one both now and forevermore. You reign in power and might. Yet your heart breaks for the least of these and for the lost and broken. You rain down peace, joy, love, and hope. Praise be to the Lord our God! Amen.


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4 Lessons

Reading: Matthew 3:1-6

Verse 3: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.'”

Turning today to the first half of this week’s gospel text, we see that John the Baptist went out into the desert of Judea and began to preach. His core message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Before we continue in the scripture, let me ask you a question: Where and when can you know God’s presence in your life?

John’s ministry was prophesied a long time ago, during Isaiah’s day. “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord'” comes from Isaiah 40. John’s calling was also reaffirmed by the angel Gabriel as he visited John’s father (Luke 1:11-17.) Even though he lived differently than the rest of the world – we’d maybe call him ‘eccentric’ today – people came to see and hear John. We see in the text that people came “from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.” They then heard his passion, they sensed his belief in the one to come, and they were moved. Many confessed their sins and were baptized by John. This was both a symbolic cleansing and a sign of their commitment to holy living.

There are four lessons that we can learn from John the Baptist. First, go where God calls you to go. Go where God leads. Second, don’t worry about fitting in. This can be a barrier to lesson 1. Be who God made you to be. Third, share what God gives you to share. Share what God places upon your heart. And lastly but most importantly, keep the focus on bringing the kingdom of God nearer to people’s lives. There is no better news than the good news of Jesus Christ. There is no other savior, redeemer, or healer. Bear witness to the Christ who changed your life. May we share this with others so that they too can know God’s wherever, whenever, however presence and love. May it be so today and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, John the Baptist was such a great example of ‘humble servant.’ He didn’t care where you sent him. He didn’t care how you asked him to live. He didn’t run from who you created and called him to be. He didn’t want or need the spotlight. He just wanted to help people be ready to meet Jesus. Create in me such passion and love for others. Amen.


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Plenty of Chaff

Reading: John 3:7-12

Verse 12: “He will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Today we read the second half of this week’s John 3 text. Verses 1-6 come tomorrow. Maybe that seems backwards. But sometimes we need to see the problem before considering the solution.

John has been preaching and baptizing in the wilderness along the Jordan River. Some of the religious leaders come out to see what’s going on. These men of high piety and fine robes are curious about this wild man. He is wild indeed! Upon seeing these fine men, John lashes out, saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Talk about a gut punch. He then tells them that claiming Abraham won’t save them. Upper cut! And, oh yes, the ax is at the roots of the tree – right there at your ankles. Quick jab! John finishes them off with this explanation of the wrath to come: “He will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” This sweeping right hand blow ends the encounter without a word from the Sadducees and Pharisees.

John cut right to the chase. He was direct and decisive. We smile or grin as we imagine this scene unfolding. Yes, we do. Until we realize that these words are in Matthew 3 for our benefit, not for the religious leaders’ benefit. We like others to think us “religious.” We enjoy our comforts. Don’t dig too deep, though. The reality is that we all have plenty of chaff in our lives – probably enough to start a small blaze! So we must ask ourselves: What religious facades do we hold up? How and why do we seek to practice religion instead of living out a real faith?

Good questions to sit with until tomorrow, when we delve into John’s call to repent. Happy wrestling!

Prayer: Lord God, make clear to me those things that you’d like to burn from my life with your refining fire. Give me the courage to see them and then the conviction to offer them up to you. Amen.


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A Shoot… Bear Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 11:1-5

Verse 1: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.”

Sometimes all we can focus on is what we see and hear around us. Sometimes the noise is so loud and the swirl so powerful. We can struggle to see or hear beyond the immediate. For the Israelites of Isaiah’s day, their nation had been soundly defeated; their homes, city, and temple were destroyed; and, many people were hauled off into exile. That’s a lot of noise and swirl. Into that scene Isaiah says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.” Yes, all appears dead. All seems lost. Hope is all but gone.

Now, God isn’t promising to make things immediately right again. God isn’t going to spare them from the consequences of their deep sin. But God is saying that this is not the end of the story. Maybe looking around there were a few saying, ‘Yah, right, God.’ I can go there when the noise and swirl are strong. So Isaiah goes on to describe this shoot. The spirit of God will rest upon him in wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and with a fear (or reverence) of God. Wow. This new leader will really be something. Imagine such a leader. Hope rises.

Yet God is not promising another David or even a Solomon. No, we must also hear verses 3-5. This king won’t just address what is easily seen with his eyes or heard with his ears. It’s much deeper. Righting this ship will strike at the roots. It will require righteousness, justice, and faithfulness. These qualities have been sorely lacking in the nation of Israel. These words may temper hope for some of the Israelites. Much like they would in our world today. Yet these words are true. They are a promise. Hope will come. The Lord will bear good fruit. We are called to be people of hope. May we go into the world today, seeking to live a life of active faith and hope.

Prayer: Lord God, the gift of this shoot brought hope and peace and love into the world, bearing good fruit. Through Jesus Christ you have begun to restore and redeem all of creation. May my words and actions help to build this new kingdom of righteousness, justice, and faithfulness. Amen.


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Prince of Peace

Reading: Psalm 122

Verse 8: “For the sake of my brothers [and sisters] and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be with you.'”

Today we begin the season of Advent! It is a season of preparation, a season to ready ourselves to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. It is a time to take in the spirit of this Psalm of Ascents, to regularly head up to the house of the Lord for worship and praise.

The second half of the Psalm focuses on the theme of peace. In the context of the Psalm, it is peace for Jerusalem and for David’s fellow Israelites. Reading these words for today, we can seek peace for our churches and for our world as well as for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Reading these words, we can also commit to a pilgrimage – not to Jerusalem but to Bethlehem.

There is an invitational spirit to this Psalm. It is an invitation to journey together, to worship and live in community. May we also commit to this witness in Advent. No other season so naturally raises people’s awareness of Jesus. Being aware of this, may we choose to be invitational people, seeking to draw others into a relationship with our Prince of Peace. As we journey together towards Bethlehem, seeking to live out our own commitment to following the way of Christ, may our very lives seek to say to others, “Peace be with you,” as we share the Prince of Peace with a world in need of Christ’s peace.

Prayer: Lord God, you bring peace to my life in so many ways. Your very presence is a natural experience of peace. May this spirit be in me as I seek to serve you this week. Amen.


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Prepared

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 44: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Returning to these words of Jesus in Matthew 24, we again hear the call to be prepared. Jesus implies that being prepared involves living faithfully. Noah is the first example. Against all reason he built an ark, trusting fully in God’s direction. Jesus follows this with another example. In verses 40-41 he speaks of two men and then two women. Both are engaged in everyday life. In both cases, one will be taken to heaven and one will be left behind. We can only assume that one had lived faithfully and one had not.

Throughout the gospels Jesus is clear that we do not live faithfully just to get into heaven. We live out our faith here to make the world better, to make a positive difference, to do God’s will here as it is in heaven. So what if we read verses 42-44 in this light too? In the next chapter in Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats. In this passage Jesus says, “whenever you did this for one of the least of these” then we’re doing it for Jesus. What if each opportunity to feed or clothe or visit or… is an opportunity to look into the face of Jesus?

With that in mind, re-read verse 44: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Maybe he will come in the one you meet this afternoon as you’re walking downtown. Maybe she will come in the morning as someone new comes to church. May we be prepared to recognize Jesus always.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see better. Lead me to love wider. Guide me to know you and to recognize you more regularly. Amen.


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Focus Shift

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 42: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.”

Photo credit: Javardh

In today’s and tomorrow’s text from Matthew 24 Jesus is telling us to always be prepared for his return. It is hard to always be prepared for something – especially if we don’t know when or where or how that moment will come. A social studies test on Tuesday during second period? Sure – I’ll study Monday night and Tuesday morning. A physical fitness test for my next rank on December 11? Sure – I’ll start jogging and doing sit-ups this Monday. Jesus is coming back in January or in 23 years or in 5 more generations or… Harder to always be prepared.

Jesus warns us against one of my biggest struggles – being busy. Using the people of Noah’s day as an example, Jesus says they were all just going about life. All were too busy to really take pause at this man building a giant boat. How often I can get so busy that I miss signs and opportunities to serve others or to minister to another. Maybe you’re not like me, but I have lots of woulda, coulda, shoulda moments.

In verses 42 Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.” Jesus is calling us to always pay attention, to always be ready, to always notice, to always step into the opportunity. Put another way, he is calling us to be less self-focused, to be more selfless. My self-imposed busyness is just that – a choice. Maybe yours is too. Instead, may we shift focus to others, so that we can love, care for, comfort, encourage, uplift, strengthen… all that God brings before us each day.

Prayer: Lord God, peel my time and focus away from me and turn it outward, to those whom you bring into my life each day. Open my eyes and heart to these. Amen.


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Give Thanks

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse 5: “The Lord is good and God’s love endures forever.”

Today’s passage is subtitled ‘A psalm. For giving thanks.’ As we read the words of Psalm 100, we are encouraged to be thankful today. We’re invited to worship the Lord with gladness and with joy. We’re reminded that God made each of us and that we are the sheep of God’s family. What great reasons to be thankful!

We are called to let our thanks overflow – to allow our joy to pour out of us and into other people’s lives. Yes, we are to “enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and praise,” but we are also to take that out with us into the world. In us and in our lives, people should see our lives as lives of living praise. In our daily life, people should see how God is good.

On this day we celebrate the blessings of our lives. It seems to come naturally on Thanksgiving day. But our thanks shouldn’t be limited to today or even to the times when life does seem to be blessing us. We are also to be thankful in the hard times. Then too, God is good. In the difficulties and in the valleys, God’s presence is strong and powerful. When we learn into the Lord in the trial, we give awesome witness to the truth that God is good all the time.

As we close I’d like to share a question that really struck me in today’s devotional by L. Cecile Adams in Disciplines 2022. She asked, “What do you want to be thankful for that is not yet on your ‘giving thanks’ list?” May the Lord grant this desire of your heart!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your goodness all the time. You are ever faithful – in the ups and downs and in the middle ground. You have blessed me and mine in so many ways. You have walked with us in the trials. Your love is amazing. Thank you. Amen.


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Put on Christ

Reading: Romans 13:11-14

Verse 11: “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Paul writes to the Christians in Rome with the same urgency that he would write to you and me with. Paul believes that Christ’s return would be any day. Those in Rome and us living today lack Paul’s sense of urgency. Just as it was when he wrote these words, today these words remain full of truth.

In verses 11 Paul implores us, calling us to a more faithful walk with Jesus, saying, “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” The second part is definitely true for all of us. You are closer to meeting the Lord right now than you were when you began this devotional. The first part is true for all of us as well – just to varying degrees. We all sleep on our faith at times. None of us are as diligent in the practices of our faith as we could be. So as we continue, may we take these next words of Paul to heart.

Paul encourages us to first “set aside the deeds of darkness.” In verses 13 he gives quite the list to start with as we strive to avoid sin. But it’s a list we could easily add to. Pride, gluttony, judging, worry – these come quickly to mind as struggles that I have. Setting these things aside, we are encouraged to “put on the armor of light.” To do so we are invited to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is inviting us to put on humility and grace, compassion and mercy, forgiveness and love, generosity and service. Then the light will shine in us and through us. May we accept Paul’s invitation this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to walk fully in the light this day. This day clothe me with Christ. Fill me with his Spirit. Use me to help others hear your invitation to live and walk in the light. As long as I am able, make all this so. Amen.


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Let Us Worship!

Reading: Psalm 122

Verse 1: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.'”

Psalm 122 is a song of ascent. It is one of many that are about going up to the temple to worship. The songs of ascent were often sung on the journey to God’s house. Today folks listen to and sing along to Christian music on their way to church to prepare themselves for worship.

In the opening verse David rejoices as others invite him to join them for worship. These friends say, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” In essence they say to David, ‘Come along, friend, let’s go to church!!’ There is a joy and a mood of celebration in the invitation and in the thought of worshipping God. There is also anticipation – feet are standing at the gate. They are on the threshold, looking in, imagining what worship will be like this day. I hope these are your emotions too as you head to church each week!

Yet I also hope for more. The sanctuary is not the only place that we can meet God. And I hope that it doesn’t happen just once a week! God is ever present and always active in our lives and in the world. As we begin each day may we do so with the same joy and anticipation. May we do so each day with a feeling of celebration, excited about what the Lord will do today. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, it is a joy to enter your house, to draw close to you in worship. Your glory and presence fill the space and our hearts as we praise your holy name. Yet I long for more. So fill me with your spirit each day – many times each day in fact. Over and over may I experience your glory. In me and through me may your light shine. Amen.