pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Witness and Bring Near

Reading: Psalm 65

Verse 4: “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts.”

Psalm 65 is written by David and is a celebration of God’s presence, provision, and blessing to the Israelites. These words are written within the context of the Israelites being God’s “chosen people.” They saw themselves as a people set apart from the world. Many of the laws in the Torah were meant to keep them to themselves lest they become tainted by the pagans around them. When David writes, “Blessed are those you choose,” he is speaking into this context. As the Bible, the story of God’s love for humanity, continues to evolve and grow, we see a widening of the circle. As Christians we believe that God’s love is unending. That means that God chooses everyone. God wants all people to be a part of the family of God. This is perhaps best illustrated in Jesus’ final command: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

The blessings and provision and presence of God that David reflects upon in the Psalm are available to all who worship God. God hears our prayers, forgives our transgressions, performs awesome deeds, gives hope, and enriches the earth abundantly. In these ways and more God seeks to “bring near to live in your courts” all of humanity. This is true for you and for me and for all people. This day, as we live with the Lord, may we too “shout for joy and sing,” bearing witness to our God so that all people may hear the invitation to know the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, use my words and actions today to reveal your love to those who do not know you. Lead and guide me to reflect your love and care to all people, drawing them towards a relationship with you. Amen.


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It Is I

Reading: John 6: 16-21

Verse 21: “It is I; do not be afraid”.

Photo credit: Karen Alsop

As we return to John 6 we see the disciples in a tough spot. The wind was howling and the waves were crashing. Three hours from shore, bailing water, rowing furiously – not a good place to be. And here comes Jesus, walking to them, across the water. It is interesting that when they see Jesus approaching “they were terrified”.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my life gets messy. Sometimes it is because I have too much going on and the wind and waves are about to overwhelm me. Sometimes it is because of a choice I have made or am making – I just want to hide in the darkness. In these situations and more, I can recognize the disciples’ fear. I don’t want Jesus to see my mess or the choices made to create distance between us. Have you been there too? And yet Jesus speaks to me and to you just as he did to the disciples: “It is I; do not be afraid”.

Jesus isn’t afraid to enter our mess or even our darkness. He works to bring us back to shore because he loves us and wants to be with us. The wind and the waves still; the light causes the darkness to flee. Suddenly we are where we need to be, walking with our Lord and Savior. May we rejoice today in the Lord who walks through it all, drawing us back into his loving presence again and again. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you pursue me out of love. Your love is a no-matter-what love. Grow in me, O God, so that I may reflect that love for myself and for others. Amen.


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Patient

Reading: 2nd Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse 9: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

2nd Peter focuses on reminding the believers that the second coming of Jesus Christ is still coming. As time has passed, some of the followers have started to doubt, to question the promised return. Our passage today begins with this truth: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day”. God’s timing and sense of time are not our timing. Our 60, 80, or even 100 years is but a blip in God’s eternity. In our instant gratification, me-first culture we still identify with the struggle to wait with faith.

The reason we continue to wait for the second coming is identified in verse nine: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”. God is patient. Out of the depths of his love for humanity – the least and the lost just as much as the saved and redeemed – God waits because God does not want to see anyone die without the opportunity to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In this way, God has a “just one more” mentality: just let the good news of Jesus Christ get into one more heart, into one more home, into one more community, into one more nation… People cannot and will not repent of their sins until they have a chance to know the saving grace offered by the Lord.

God is patient, but it is not a passive patience. It is an active patience that we are called to live out. The great commission is the call to make disciples of all peoples. Patience must be a part of how we collectively and individually live out this call. Reflect inward for a moment. Are there sins that you continue to struggle with? Do you want God to be patient with you? When I consider these questions, I recognize my struggle with pride and wanting to be in control. Yes, God could get a bit frustrated with me. God could say, ‘Its been 2,379,647,704 times that your pride has caused you to sin, John. I’m not sure about forgiving #2,379,647,705’, but he doesn’t. Instead God reminds me that pride sin 2,379,647,703 was cast as far as the east is from the west. It was forgotten by God the moment I confessed… We are called to that same patience as we seek to share the good news with unbelievers. One more conversation about faith, one more gesture or act that shows God’s love, one more…

As we seek to bear witness to our faith today, as we seek to bring one more person to Christ today, may we be patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

Prayer: God of love and mercy, remind me again and again how patient you are with me. Turn that reminder into a drive to see all enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. As you love me, may I love others. Amen.


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Your Way, Father God

Reading: Philippians 2: 1-13

Verse 5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

Today’s passage is confusing to many in the world and counter-cultural in many societies. It always has been. Early on we learned to do well, to excel if possible. In school we quickly learned who the smartest were. Whenever a spelling quiz or multiplication test was passed back, all glanced around to see who had the 100%. On the fields and in the band rooms those who were picked first for the team or who occupied first chair were seen as the goal. As life continued, the world continued to teach us to rise up, to be popular, to keep buying bigger and better. Even in Jesus’ day there was a clear social hierarchy. The Jews, Jesus’ people, saw themselves as far superior to all others. They were, after all, God’s chosen people.

So where in the world did this Jesus come from? Why would he come to this people – and continue to seek to come into worldly people’s lives – with the call to “consider others better than yourselves”? Being the fastest or strongest or best anything wasn’t even on Jesus’ radar. Owning a huge flock of sheep or a big cabinetry factory never drew a second of his attention. Jesus did not care what others thought of him. Accordingly, Jesus chose to take on “the very nature of a servant”. Instead of being a powerful ruler by the world’s standards, Jesus became a conquering servant. Instead of looking at how he climb up the social and political and economic and religious ladders, he sought to dismantle the ladders. Instead of seeking to work his way into the “right” circles, Jesus sought to bring all into his circle. Instead of saying “My way”, Jesus said, “Your way, Father God”.

Jesus was love and obedience lived out. May we each seek to follow Paul’s call day by day: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

Prayer: Living God, lead me today to walk humbly. May I see others and their needs before considering my own. Guide me in the ways of Jesus, your humble servant, my example. Amen.


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Anyone Who Has Faith…

Reading: John 14: 5-14

Verse 12: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”.

The opening verses of our passage center around the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus’ statement that “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” is very clear to us but is outside the understanding of the disciples at this point. From our vantage point, we do not get how the disciples don’t get it. Jesus explains how the amazing words that he speaks are from God living inside if him and he reminds them that the “evidence of the miracles” offers proof of the divine within Jesus. By way of the Bible we too are privy to the words and works of Jesus.

In this moment in time, Jesus wants the disciples to understand that he is God. This is essential because part of Jesus’ mission was to better reveal the heart of God to humanity. For three years, the disciples see what that looks like. It involves healing brokenness and bringing restoration. It involves including the outcasts and the sinners. It includes being a humble servant and a compassionate listener. It entails putting God’s and others’ needs ahead of your own. It encompasses the offer of love and forgiveness without conditions or limitations. We do know that the disciples finally do get all this. We know this because they become the church as they practice being the heart of God as they follow Jesus.

In verse twelve, this is what Jesus is talking about when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”. If you’re really a follower, a real disciple, Jesus says we will do what he did as he revealed the heart of God. Take a second and look back over that very limited list in the last paragraph – the one that lists a few ways how Jesus revealed the heart of God. How are you and your church doing with the “will do what I have been doing”?

We scratch our heads and maybe even snicker at how the disciples did not “get it” in our passage. Added to the words and works of Jesus that we find in the Bible, we have almost 2,000 years worth of faithful witnesses that have done what Jesus did – life after life that models the heart of God. What is one practical thing that you can do today to better do what Jesus did? May we all find at least one way to be like the real Jesus today.

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, which can I do today? How will you use me today to reveal your heart to another? Surprise me today, Lord. Place me where you will, use me as you will. Amen.


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Carriers

Reading: Acts 9: 1-16

Verse 16: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…”

Saul has become the face of the enemy for the early church. He has taken on the role of chief persecutor, judge, and executioner. Saul hears the church is starting to grow in Damascus, so he heads there, armed with letters of authority to arrest all the Christians. But on the road to Damascus, Saul meets Jesus. Jesus asks him, “Why do you persecute me”? Saul is struck blind and told to go into Damascus, where he will be told what to do. Saul spends three days fasting and praying.

The Lord also calls upon Ananias. He is a disciple in Damascus who knows Saul’s reputation. Jesus instructs him to go to the house where Saul is staying. There Ananias is to lay hands on Saul to heal him of his blindness. Ananias questions this idea – he knows who Saul is. But the Lord knows who Saul will become. The Lord says to Ananias, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…”

Ananias is being sent to the enemy. He probably knows some of the people that Saul has arrested or killed. To go to him is risky. To heal him seems like the last thing to do. It calls on Ananias to trust God and to imitate the loving forgiveness of Jesus. It calls on Ananias to allow God to work through him. God has clearly chosen Saul to use for His purposes. Ananias will dutifully obey and go to heal Saul.

God has chosen Saul to be His instrument to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. This is a big audience. The Gentiles are all the non-Jews. This represents almost all of the known world since the Jews are a relatively small group of people. It is a big mission. Saul is tasked with carrying the message to the people. This is different than bringing the message. To bring is to share the message that someone else told you. To carry is to be the message, to live it out with all you are. Saul will carry the good news. He will become so filled with Jesus that he will preach and heal just as Jesus did.

When we consider our role in following the Great Commission to make disciples of all people, are we bringing the message or are we carrying the message? May we be infectious carriers.

Prayer: Fill me with you so that I carry the message of your love and hope and healing to all I meet today. Amen.


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Light

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 1-11

Verses 5 and 6: “You are all sons of the light… let us be alert and self-controlled.”

The Thessalonians are awaiting the return of Christ.  It has been twenty years and they are beginning to wonder.  They wonder about whether or not He is coming in their lifetimes and they wonder about their loved ones who are dying in the interim.  The anticipation of Christ’s return has begun to fade for some of the Thessalonians.  As Christians today we should be looking forward to Christ’s return too, but praying for Jesus to return today is not at the start of most of our prayer times.  For the most part, we live with the attitude that Christ could return today, but we do not live like He is returning today.

Paul’s words to the Thessalonians applies very much to Christians living in 2017.  The world is full of darkness and there are many who will face destruction and who will not escape.  They will be surprised when Jesus comes “like a thief in the night”.  Paul reminds us that we are all “sons of the light” and that we belong to Christ, who is our light.  Therefore, Paul says we should be “alert and self-controlled” as we live out our daily lives.  There is the implication then that we will not be surprised when Jesus returns (or when we go to meet Him).

Paul goes on to write about how we are to live our daily lives as children of the light.  He first says to put on faith and love as a breastplate.  The breastplate protects the heart.  If we begin each day by covering our heart with faith and love, then faith and love will be what guides our thoughts, words, and actions.  Paul then says to put on the hope of salvation like a helmet.  By doing so, we have the promise and hope of salvation right on the top of our minds, allowing that reassurance to be with us in all we do.

This day may we allow faith, hope, and love to be what others see as we live a s a child of the light.  May we shine brightly into the darkness of the world this day, bringing our God and King to all we encounter this day.


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Compassion

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 14: When Jesus landed and saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Jesus always seemed to be in demand.  Once He began to teach and heal, there always seemed to be a group or a crowd gathered around Him.  He had interesting and sometimes challenging parables and His interpretation of the Scriptures and what it meant to have faith all seemed to center around love and hope and forgiveness.  There was a hunger for these things and Jesus offered them.  For each, there was draw to Jesus.  This day, many are seeking healing.  The people are seeking Jesus’ touch to heal them physically or spiritually or mentally.  So this day is no different than all the others.  Jesus is tired and seeks to withdraw to a solitary place, but the people follow along on shore.

“When Jesus landed and saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick”.  Instead of being mad or getting back in the boat and heading off someplace else, a tired Jesus has compassion.  He gets out of the boat and starts healing them.  We do not know how or what He healed them of, but we do know that He healed many because as evening approaches, the disciples come to Jesus with a practical concern.  Feeding the people – one more way to care for them.  But Jesus’ response challenges the disciples: “You feed them”.  Their answer: but, but, but.   Our answer would have been the same.  What can we do, Lord?

Instead of being angry with the disciples or seeking to walk away from them, Jesus has compassion.  He solves their problem too.  With five loaves and two fish, Jesus feeds the multitude.  His compassion never ends.  Even though tired and seeking solitude, Jesus heals many and as the day draws long, He feeds them too, tending to a physical need of the people.

Jesus continues to do all of this today.  In those times of hurt and pain, Jesus heals our brokenness.  He heals our physical or spiritual or emotional hurts.  He also provides for our needs – our daily bread and so much more.  Jesus offers us Hope and love and forgiveness today as He has compassion on us.  Whatever our need or our hurt, Jesus says to us, “Bring them to me”.


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Go Out

Reading: Acts 2: 1-21

Verses 17 and 21: I will pour out my Spirit… And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Come, stand in the disciples’ shoes for a few minutes.  You have gone from grief and despair to joy and courage in quick order.  Jesus has breathed the Holy Spirit into you and you are told once again to go out into the world to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.  You are being asked to trust your life to this Holy Spirit that you just met for the first time.  And then Pentecost comes and you experience the power of the Holy Spirit as God pours it out on all the believers gathered there that day.  It would have been like seeing Jesus perform His first miracle.  Back then you thought something like, ‘Now we’ve got something here’!  The scene of all the believers being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in a wide variety of languages reveals to you the power of this Holy Spirit.

And just as the crowd begins to question what is happening here, Peter stands up to address the crowd.  You’re one of the eleven so you stand up too.  But as Peter speaks you find that he isn’t just talking to the crowd that day – he’s talking right to you.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in him, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel.  You recognize the words, “I will pour out my Spirit…”.  You know that Joel was speaking of you.  You experienced Jesus pouring out the Spirit upon you as He breathed it into you.  You will prophesy and dream dreams and have visions.  You will see and feel God at work as the Holy Spirit leads and guides you.  But most of all you find a peace that passes understanding in the last line from Joel: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.  That’s you.  No matter what comes in this earthly life, the power of the Holy Spirit resides in you and your salvation is secure.  You are ready to go out and bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Now, come back to June 3, 2017.  The great commission remains in effect.  God still reigns.  The Holy Spirit dwells within you.  Go out and bring the gospel to the world!