pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God’s Mercy

Reading: Luke 1: 54-55

Verse 54: “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful”.

As we begin this week’s readings, we begin with the closing lines to Mary’s song. After receiving a visit from the angel Gabriel, letting her know that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who confirms that Mary will indeed be “blessed among all women”. Becoming fully aware that she will be the one who will give birth to the one whose “kingdom will never end”, Mary bursts forth in song. The song ends by recognizing one of the universal truths of the faith: God is merciful.

Mary recognizes that she is part of something that has been long awaited and that she is part of God’s ongoing story. The coming of the Messiah is something that Israel has longed for. The one who will redeem and restore Israel has been a hope for generation after generation. Mary knows that she is part of that plan, now coming into reality. She also acknowledges that her part, as significant and important as it is, to Israel and to the world, is but part of God’s ongoing gifting of mercy to the whole world. At an unexpected time and in a most unexpected way, the one who will save Israel and all who believe is about to enter the world through a most humble servant.

In today’s passage Mary sings, “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful”. God has chosen to help Israel once again, demonstrating his great mercy and love. A humble, very ordinary woman was chosen by God to be a part of his continuing revelation. Mary recognizes that this is something that God has done and will do “forever”. As we reflect today on these words from Mary, we must consider how God might use us too, ordinary as we are, to further reveal his mercy and love to the world. In what small yet significant way might God use you or me today or this week to further reveal his great mercy?

Prayer: Loving and most merciful God, thinking about Mary’s circumstances and about how she humbly stepped into what you called her to, I am amazed. To think that you call and seek to use even me is most humbling. Like Mary, guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit, using me as you will for the further revelation of your mercy and love for all the world. Amen.


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Gift of the Spirit

Reading: Mark 1: 6-8

Verses 7 and 8: “After me will come one more powerful than I… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”.

John the Baptist chose the wilderness as his ministry setting. He dressed the part, wearing camel hair clothes. He lived a wilderness life, eating locusts and wild honey. In these ways he was about as far from a typical religious leader as he could be. But this was his destiny. John was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth when both were well beyond the children stage of life. In Luke 1 we find the story of the angel visiting Zechariah in the holy of holies, telling him of John’s special role in preparing the way for the coming Messiah.

Large crowds came out to see John, to hear his message, to confess their sins, to be baptized. It would have been easy for John to forget his main task. It would have been easy to get caught up in the crowds and growing number of followers. Maybe that is part of why John did not operate out of the temple. There he might have heard whispers of how great he was, of how much he was doing for God. Or maybe the religious leaders would not have ever even let John in the door. He was wild, after all, ministering outside the religious structures of the day. In this way John was much like his cousin Jesus.

John was like Jesus in another important way. He understood the role he came to play. John preached and baptized, called people to repent of their sins, not to build up a following, but to prepare people to follow Jesus. We see and feel John’s humility and dedication to God in verses seven and eight. Here he says, “After me will come one more powerful than I… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. The one who will baptize with the long awaited Holy Spirit is coming.

After baptizing Jesus, John will become less so that Jesus can step into and live out his role according to God’s plan. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as he emerges from the waters of baptism. For three years, Jesus will play his role, defining what it looks like to love God and neighbor with all that you are. As Jesus’ ministry and time on earth comes to a close, he promises to pass on the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believe. Like many disciples who have come before us, we too have received the gift of the Spirit. This gift allows and empowers us to play our roles, guiding us to be live love and light in the world. May we too play our roles, preparing others to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Loving God, we all have a role to play. We are all called to be ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ. Fill us all with the power of the Holy Spirit, guiding us to ever point to your son, the Savior of the world. Amen.


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Encourage One Another

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 4: 13-18

Verses 17 and 18: “We will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words”.

In yesterday’s reading of 1st Thessalonians we looked at the hope and promise that we find in Jesus Christ’s victory over death. Those who claim a saving faith in Jesus will one day receive the gift of eternity in his presence. We are also reminded that one day Christ will return, making all things new. The trials and sufferings, the wars and violence, the injustice and oppression, the barriers and obstacles… – they will be no more. It is a glorious and beautiful new world to ponder.

Paul reminds us that Jesus will return, coming down from heaven with angels and trumpet blasts. It will be an unmistakable event. All will know that Christ is returning. All will know what is happening. First, the “dead in Christ” will arise to join him. Then those that “are still alive” will be “caught up in the clouds” to join Christ. But this will not be all people. Some will know that this day signals the beginning of a horrible eternity. It will not be a joyous day for all of humanity. For those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, though, it will be as Paul writes: “We will be with the Lord forever”.

Paul also adds, “Therefore encourage each other with these words”. Encourage others to claim a saving faith through Jesus Christ. Encourage others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Make disciples of all peoples for the transformation of the world. The transformation is two-fold. The first transformation occurs here, in each of us, now. As followers of Jesus, we live differently. We live a Christlike life in the here and now, bringing healing and wholeness to this broken and hurting world. We do so to begin a transformation in others. The second transformation will come when Christ returns. All will be made new. As people of love and hope, we should want as many people as possible to rejoice at the second coming of the Lord. Therefore, may we encourage one another, drawing others into the saving light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, may your light and love within me speak to the world of the hope and promise that I have in you. May what I have be contagious and attractive to those without a saving relationship. Amen.


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The Better Way

Reading: Matthew 13: 36-43

Verse 43: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father”.

As Jesus and the disciples return to the house once again they ask him to explain a parable. Jesus had just told a story about planting seeds and they needed help with the interpretation. Jesus explains that he is the sower, planting good seeds in people’s lives. He does this work in the world – everywhere he goes. At the same time, Satan is at work in the same world and even in the same people’s lives. Satan is planting seeds that grow into weeds. Each of us knows this very experience. Jesus plants seeds of love, hope, forgiveness… while Satan plants seeds of anger, jealousy, greed, hatred… Both are vying for control of the world and for every soul that inhabits the world. Both continue to till our soil, trying to secure our eternity.

Jesus reassures his followers that there is a plan. He, and probably they, already know that they are the servants – eager to be rid of all the evil in the world. So he first teaches patience and trust. God is in control. There will be a day when all is made right in the world. The final score will be God 1, Satan 0. Jesus explains that as he returns and makes all things new, the angels will come forth to harvest all the evil from the world. These will experience eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth in the fires of hell. And “then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father”. Those that have been faithful to Jesus Christ will dwell eternally with the Lord. They will live in his light and love, shining back Jesus’ light.

Sometimes it is difficult to see or live with the evils of the world. It is hard when evil people adversely impact our lives or the lives of those we love. Jesus dealt with and experienced evil during his time on earth. His interactions and clashes with non-believers and the religious leaders would be experiences setting an example for us. Jesus never retaliated or sought revenge or passed judgment. He offered love and sought understanding; he extended grace and worked to build relationship. As we seek to build the kingdom here on earth, may we be like Jesus, offering the better way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I encounter evil in whatever form it takes, may I be like Jesus. Guide me to first love and then to seek to build relationship and understanding. May I bear witness to my faith in Jesus Christ in all situations. Use me today to build your kingdom here. Amen.


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Listen and Obey

Reading: Matthew 1: 18-25

Verse 20: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”.

In Joseph’s day the Holy Spirit was not quite as prevalent as it is today. The gift of the Holy Spirit had not yet been given to all believers and faith for the average Jew was connected to the temple. Angels were the primary heavenly bearers of God’s voice. It was an angel that visited Zechariah and then Mary. It is an angel that comes to Joseph in his dream.

Joseph must have loved Mary deeply. Going to bed this night he has received news that he cannot quite live with. The woman he loves, the woman he is engaged to marry, is with child and he is sure that he did not have anything to do with the pregnancy. He decides to end the engagement quietly, keeping Mary from any public disgrace and from the many ramifications that would come with an unwed birth. In doing so, he risks exposing himself. It is a risk he is willing to take for Mary, his beloved.

In the angelic dream Joseph learns that Mary is bearing a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that went out over the waters at the creation of the world has formed the child in Mary’s womb. He also learns that the child will be the Savior, fulfilling the ancient prophecy from Isaiah 7. Knowing all this, Joseph awakes with a resolve to be a part of God’s plan.

What strikes me is how “matter of fact” Joseph is – no doubt, no questioning, no hesitancy. He steps into God’s plan most effortlessly. What would our lives look like if we stepped into the guidance of the Holy Spirit so effortlessly, without any hesitation…? What would our world look like?

God spoke to Joseph, he listened and obeyed. God speaks to us all the time too. May we listen and obey.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, how often you speak to me through your word, through the Holy Spirit, through fellow believers. I hear you often. This day and every day, make me more and more like Joseph, listening and obeying. May it be so. 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.


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Ever Alive

Reading: Luke 20: 27-38

Verse 38: “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive”.

In today’s text the Sadducees pose a question to Jesus. Their question is really getting at what Jesus thinks about the resurrection – not about whose wife the woman will be. If there is a resurrection is a point of contention between this group and the Pharisees. In his response to their question Jesus says that in the resurrection we will be like angels, not dying again. The passage today closes with this truth: “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive”. All who believe in Jesus Christ will live forever. Jesus does not mean that our physical bodies will live forever. Our spirit, the true essence of who and what we are, will live forever with him.

Knowing this truth impacts both this life and the life to come. It removes much fear and anxiety from both. To the believer it offers comfort in a time of loss. It offers reassurance about our earthly relationships that matter the most to us. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus proves what he says. Death no longer has power over us. Because of this, we also are called to live these earthly lives differently.

Without fear of our eternity, we can live more fully in the present. We find a peace in the trials because we know that God controls the here and now too. We find strength in the battles because we walk with the Holy Spirit in the here and now. We find comfort in the suffering, knowing that God carries us when we need it most. We find courage in the times we are called to face injustice and to walk with the lost and the broken because we know that Jesus stands right there with us and the he intercedes for us before the throne. The God of the living and the dead loves all of his children. Because God is good and loving and kind, we are ever alive. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of life, thank you for both showing and making the way. In this earthly life you revealed what a life lived fully trusting in God’s love looks like. In defeating the cross you made a way for us to the sins of this world. And in defeating the grave you gave us resurrection power and hope. May I live for you in this world so that one day I can live with you in your heavenly kingdom. Amen.


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Imitate Christ

Reading: Hebrews 13: 1-8

Verse 8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”.

Today we are first encouraged to love one another. This extends both to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to the strangers among us. We are reminded that we might be entertaining angels when we extend hospitality to a stranger, to those we visit in prison, and to those who are mistreated. True hospitality draws no lines and sees no barriers. It loves both friends and strangers alike.

We are next encouraged to be good people. We do so by honoring our marriages, by keeping sexually moral, and by being content with what we have. Our contentment comes from our relationship with the Lord, which we read about in the quotes from Deuteronomy 31 and Psalm 118. The first emphasizes the fact that God will never leave us or forsake us and the second reminds us that with God as our helper we do not need to be afraid.

Our passage concludes with a reminder of what Hebrews 11 and 12 have been all about: following the examples of those pillars of the faith that have gone before. Here we connect back to Abraham and Isaac and Enoch… with Peter, James, John, Paul, and the other early church leaders. Verse eight concludes with the greatest one to follow, the perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ. In this verse we read that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”. Jesus loved all, was without sin, honored the pillars of faith, and gave the gifts of help in this world and an invitation to join him in eternity. The Holy Spirit is our ever present companion that never leaves us and always helps and guides us. Through faith in Christ alone we receive the promise of life eternal. It is the prize for which we run this race.

In verse seven we are encouraged to “imitate their faith”. When we strain forward, running the race like those pillars and especially like Jesus, we will help others to know the good news, to experience healing, to see miracles worked in their lives. In sharing Jesus’ light and love with others, we invite them into a relationship with Jesus Christ too. What greater gift can we offer to our friends and to the strangers in our midst?

Prayer: Dear Lord, you are the perfect example of loving God and loving neighbor. Give me the courage and trust to love you and all I meet today. May your love pour out into their lives today. Amen.


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Favor

Reading: Luke 1: 26-30

Verse 30: “Do not be afraid… you have found favor with the Lord”.

Out of the blue, an angel visits Mary.  Her first reaction is what I think mine would be: fear.  The angel greets her and then tells her that the Lord is with her.  Maybe her fears subsided a bit knowing that God was with her.  In that moment, though, Mary must have really been wondering what would be coming next.  I would be!

Our passage tells us that Mary was “troubled” – again, a reaction I think most of us would have if an an angel appeared to us.  At a minimum, if I am being honest, knowing that I was on the brink of something big, I would be really troubled.  While it is probably quite exciting when an angel comes for a visit (I assume it is), there is also the scary recognition that things are about to change pretty seriously.

The angel then says to Mary, “Do not be afraid… you have found favor with the Lord”.  The first part is good to hear, but the second part is great to hear.  Mary has found favor with God!  Hallelujah!  Praise be!  Amen!  Yes, it is indeed wonderful to know that she has found favor with God.  While in this setting it is particularly good news for Mary, our reality is that this is good news for us as well.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we have all found favor with God.

In the book The Shack, the lead character Mac and God have frequent conversations.    Most of the time when the conversation is about people in Mac’s life, they are people that he could do without.  Each and every time God says, “Oh yes, I am especially fond of that one”.  Every time.  Although it is just a fictional book, I believe this part to really be true.  God is especially fond of every human being because we are all children of God.  He loves us all.  And some – those who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior – have found favor with God.  Talk about good news!  Hallelujah and amen!