pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Leading Others to Christ

Reading: John 1: 19-28

Verse 26: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know”.

In today’s passage the religious leaders send out some of their people to inquire of this man baptizing in the wilderness. Many ordinary people are going out to see John the Baptist. Confessing their sins, they receive a baptism of repentance. John is having a big and positive impact on the peoples’ faith. But John is not one of the religious elite. They want to know who he is.

John initiates the conversation by first stating that he is not the Christ. Then who? they ask. Not Elijah, not a prophet. Pressed, John quotes from Isaiah: “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord'”. This is exactly who he is, but the answer does not satisfy those sent to inquire. To them the answer is not definitive. Not getting the answer they want, they shift gears and ask, “Why then do you baptize”? John does not really answer this question either. Instead, he points to Jesus. After acknowledging that he baptizes with water John says, “Among you stands one you do not know”. This will remain true. The religious leaders will come to know who Jesus is, but they will never really know him. This sad reality is still true for many people today.

As followers of Jesus Christ we know who he is: the Lord and Savior of the world and of our lives. In just eleven days we will celebrate the coming of Christ, God in the flesh. Like John, as we prepare to celebrate, may we invite others to come to know Jesus as we do. As we near Christmas Eve may we seek to make Jesus more fully known day by day. May our lives lead others to know the Savior of the world. May it be so each day.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be a voice calling out, a voice that tells others about my Lord and Savior. Fill me with your Spirit and may the words I speak be words of peace and joy, of love and hope. 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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Calling Them to Come

Mark 1: 1-5

Verse 4: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

Last week we began Advent with the end of the story – the end of the age when Jesus will return in power and might. This week we jump back to the beginning of the story, with the ministry of John the Baptist. Mark begins his gospel quoting from two of the many Old Testament passages that point to Jesus Christ, the full revelation of God. Mark describes John’s ministry simply: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. John set up outside of the temple, outside of Jerusalem – outside of all civilization for that fact. He was calling people back to a simpler way of life from a simple place: the wilderness. It was not a place to come and stay. It was a place to come to, to do what needed done, and to return home from.

As I try to imagine John out there in the wilderness, my mind thinks of “bullhorn guy”. He is that person standing on the street corner, yelling at people through a bullhorn, telling folks that they will end up in hell because of their sins. People tend to go the long way around street corners such as these. We, in general, do not like to consider our sins, much less confess them in public on a street corner. Although the basic message is the same – repent of your sins – John must have been as far from the bullhorn guy as one could get. Mark writes, “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to see him”. There were, of course, some curious folks who went out to see what all this was about. These folks appear in our churches once in a while. A bump in life leads them to check out this faith thing. Others come to appease a significant other or their family at the holidays. The religious leaders showed up too. Not to be prepared or to confess or to be baptized, but to assess the threat to their own power. A lot of people were going to see John. But most people, large numbers of people, went to see John to be made right with God. In verse five we read, “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him”. They emerged from the waters ready to live a new, more faithful life.

There was a hunger to be close to God, to be a better person, to live a more holy life. This is what drew people out into the wilderness to hear John’s message and to be changed. John called the people to more. As we too live out our days, may our witness call people to more. This day and each day, may our friends and neighbors, our co-workers and classmates – may they see the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ within us, calling them to more.

Prayer: Lord God, may I be an example of your will and way. May all I do and say and think point people to you and to the saving relationship that you offer in and through Jesus Christ. Amen.


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The Opportunity

Reading: Acts 2: 37-41

Verse 39: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”.

The people that were drawn to the place that the church was gathered feel remorse over their role in crucifying Jesus. Yesterday we felt our role so today we can relate to how they felt. Their question of Peter is, “What shall we do”? Their hearts told them they needed to respond. It is a familiar feeling, isn’t it? We have felt it when we see someone in great need. We have felt it when we have sinned and have felt the conviction.

Peter’s response is basic Christianity 101: “Repent and be baptized”. Leave your old way of life and enter into new life with Jesus Christ. Leave behind your sinful ways and begin to walk as a follower of Jesus Christ. Leave behind not only your sins but the guilt and shame that we often associate with wrong-doing. In this case, Peter wants them to leave behind their remorse for their role in the crucifixion. Only then can they claim their new resurrection life as they begin to walk as new creations in Christ. As they make the good confession and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they too will receive what drew them to this time and place – the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Then, in verse 39, we see Peter beginning to understand just what Jesus meant when he gave the great commission. In verse 39 Peter says, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”. The idea of making disciples of all nations and of going to the ends of the earth are starting to settle into Peter. God will continue to work in and through Peter to make the gospel known. Many others will have a hand in sharing the good news – James and John and the other disciples, Paul and Timothy and Silas. The first disciples will teach new disciples. The work will continue on. The list of disciples of Jesus Christ goes on down through the ages. It continues to grow in 2020. The range of the church expands and now the gospel reached around the globe.

Yet there are still places that the good news of Jesus Christ has not yet taken root. One might be just down the street. One might be in the next office over from yours. One might be in the pew next to you when we once again can gather together. Peter took the opportunity to share the gospel as the opportunity presented itself. 3,000 were added to the church that day. May we, like Peter, make the most of the opportunities that God gives us. May we share the promises of resurrection with a world in need of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to share the good news today in whatever form I can. Give me words to speak, prayers to offer, actions to take. Lead me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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The Light Remains

Reading: Matthew 4: 12-17

Verse 17: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”.

Our passage begins with some news that signals a transition. Two events have already occurred to facilitate this transition. As the voice in the desert continues to preach a baptism of repentance, Jesus is baptized and then spends his time in the wilderness. Both of these events were preparing him to begin his public ministry. As John the Baptist is arrested, there is now space for the one to whom John always pointed. What was is passing on and the new is taking its place.

To begin his ministry, Jesus moves to Galilee, to a town that would be his base for ministry. Capernaum is located on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. This location is a bit removed from Jerusalem and the southern half of Israel. It is adjacent to Samaria. At times it will be a place of refuge for Jesus and his disciples. But as his ministry begins, Jesus announces a different reason for being there. It is according to God’s plan. Quoting from a prophet that spoke 700 years prior, Jesus announces that he has come to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: he is the light that shines into the darkness.

Just as John had done, Jesus picks up the call to follow God and to walk in his ways. Jesus’ initial theme echoes John’s message. Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. The focus is now fully on Jesus as the light begins to shine out into the world. In him, the kingdom has drawn near. The Messiah, the Christ has come. The Good Shepherd has arrived to tend the flock of lost sheep.

The light remains with us, continuing to shine light into the darkness in our lives and in the world. Jesus remains present, healing and restoring the broken, reaching out to the lost, guiding us as we walk the narrow way. The Christ, the light, is here. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my light in the darkness, my hope in times of despair. Thank you for your abiding presence and gentle guidance. Thank you for pulling me back when I drift, for redeeming me when I slip. Ever be my light! Amen.


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Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verse 13: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”.

Paul writes today about belonging. We all want to belong, to have a place we fit into, to be loved. For most of us, we belong in three groups – family, church, and friends. Sometimes there is overlap in these, sometimes there is not.

The traditional family we belong to is generally biological. We add to that though. My immediate family would include my parents, my wife and children and daughter-in-law, and my brother and his wife and children. Connected from there are cousins, aunts, uncles… My family of friends is a little different but is still based on some common characteristics: love, trust, care, investment in relationship. With friends we can pick and choose more as things like common interests and personality also play into who we allow into our family of friends.

Our church family falls somewhere in between these two other families. There is a certain admission process that occurs, like with our friends. But it is different in that we in the church were first chosen by God, according to his plan. When we accept God’s invitation – “having believed” in Paul’s words today – then we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”. This process places us within a family that is more like our traditional family. We are connected to one another as the body of Christ. These connections are like those we find in our traditional families. Our local church is like our nuclear family – closely connected, strong bonds of love, trust, care… Our denomination or connectional system is like the next circle out – aunts, uncles, cousins… There is still a sense of community and we call each other family. The worldwide church of Jesus Christ is the outer circle. We should look at all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m afraid we look at some of these as our sixth cousin twice removed or like Uncle Fritz – the one no one talks about or mentions anytime. Sadly this also happens in our closer circles as well.

There is but one God, one Lord Jesus Christ, one abiding Holy Spirit. We who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are all baptized into one inheritance, eternal in the heavens. May our lives and our connections to one another reflect these basics, all to the praise of his glory.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me on the path of love. Root me in the core essentials of faith. Grant me grace in all other differences. Amen.


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The Call

Reading: Matthew 3: 1-6

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

John the Baptist was an anomaly for his day. He would be so in about any age. He lived a very rustic lifestyle out in the wilderness. He preached a basic message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near”. His passion and sincerity drew a few at first but soon his ministry led many to go out to see John the Baptist. He was the one of whom Isaiah was speaking when he wrote, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'”.

John was offering a simple but challenging message. It took some effort to go out to see him. The real work began after you tackled both of these things. John the Baptist’s message did not bring peace, but disruption and change and transformation. To repent, to be baptized, led to a commitment to walk a new road. One was leaving behind a sinful life and seeking to walk the narrow road. Emerging from the waters meant a call to walk a more devout and God-honoring faith.

Maybe through a song, maybe through a prayer, maybe through the message, God will speak into people’s hearts. As they hear the challenge, as they hear the call to something new, will they step forward, willing to risk transformation? Or will they try and ignore the call, seeking instead to remain on the soft and easy path? May the Holy Spirit be at work in our churches today, preparing the way for the coming Messiah. God, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, a voice to speak. Challenge me today to step into the wilderness, into the uncomfortable. May I find you there. Amen.


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Matthew 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Many people were coming out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. It was your typical Sunday morning crowd this day in Matthew 3. Many came to hear John’s call to repentance and to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, symbolizing being made clean. Some came to support those making a choice to seek a new life. They had walked the narrow road since coming to see John themselves. Some came because they thought they should. Their minds were on a million other things and their hearts were even further from faith in God. But this day, some came to see the show. They would gather later, to ridicule it within the safety of their little circle.

This day the usual preaching and baptizing comes to a screeching halt as John yells out, “You brood of vipers”! I bet you could have heard a pin drop. He asks them who warned them to “flee from the coming wrath”? He is calling them out for coming to the river and then returning to their unrepentant lives later that afternoon. The Pharisees and Sadducees do not even think about stepping into the river. Why would they?

This would be like our communion stewards going to someone who remained in the pew instead of coming forward and being told, “No thanks. I’m good – haven’t sinned since I took communion last month”. We may be taken aback by such a thought, but there will be folks who move with the crowd, who take communion and just go through the motions. They will move through the line, they will take the bread and the juice, without ever searching their hearts, without ever seeking to repent of their sins. They will go through the motions planning on returning to life as it was.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. Live lives that look like you have repented of your sins. Live lives that look like you love God and neighbor more than you love yourself. Don’t just appear to love God and neighbor. Really love them in concrete and practical ways. Love God and neighbor in ways that make them feel loved by you.

John proclaims that one day Jesus will “gather his wheat into the barn”. Live lives worthy of being gathered into Jesus’ barn. Produce fruit that builds the kingdom of God both in your heart and in the hearts of others.

Prayer: Lord, show me today how to love you more and to love others more. Convict me when I fall short of what you call me to. Guide me by your Holy Spirit to be your love in the world today. Amen.


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Spirit of Unity

Reading: Romans 15: 4-7

Verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”.

In the early church in Rome they were struggling to all be the church. One dominant group, the Jewish Christians, were clinging to the Torah and other writings and teachings of the Jewish faith. The “newer” believers, who were called “Gentiles”, did not have this long history with God. Their entrance to the faith was based upon believing that Jesus was the Messiah and then being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in this order for the last two). The central issue in this early church came down to how much of the Hebrew scriptures… were essential to being a Christian. The answer to this question has played itself out for two thousand years.

The people in the church in Rome basically fell into three groups. One group wanted to use all of the Jewish scriptures… for “membership” in the church. One group did not want to use any of these as benchmarks for membership. In the middle was a group that felt some was useful and some was not essential. Paul, in general, fell into this middle group. This was quite a change for Paul. Up until pretty recently, Paul was known as Saul. As Saul he was a Pharisee – an uber follower of all the laws and Jewish teachings from the scriptures. In verse four we read Paul’s words to the church. Here we read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”. We can learn from all of the Hebrew scriptures… But that does not necessarily mean following every single law and writing. And it does not mean that we willy-nilly pick what we like and do not like. With endurance and with encouragement from the entirety of scripture, we find our way forward. This has been the Jewish practice for thousands of years. They learned that the black letters do not always tell us how to interpret and apply something written to another time or context. So they dig down deep and find the intent or the purpose or the meaning of the law… To say “we’ve always done it this way” and to insist that’s the only option is sometimes harmful and sometimes limits the fruit produced for the glory of God. But that is what the Jewish Christians were saying. They wanted the Gentiles to first become good Jews – follow all of the law, do things as we have always done them. The early church did find the way forward. A spirit of unity prevailed and led them to move forward, accepting one another. God was glorified, the church grew, Christ was taught and followed. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, as it was, so it remains. It is not always easy being the church. Made up of fallible human beings, we still struggle with what it means to simply love you and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us. Lead and guide us, as you did the early church, to be one in you. Amen.