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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Again and Again

Reading: Luke 18:1-8

Verse 7: “Will not God bring about justice for God’s chosen ones, who cry out day and night?”

Returning today to Luke 18 we focus on the widow and her faith. She was fully convinced that an injustice had been done against her. As a widow, she was powerless to affect change in this case. The judge was her only option. So she goes to the judge over and over. And then she goes again and again. The widow persists; she will not give up.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been so moved by an injustice that you won’t give up? If so, you were like the widow – you prayed and prayed, you came over and over to the one(s) who could affect the injustice, you acted in ways to bring healing or change or justice. You demanded to be heard and used any means possible to shine light on your “case.” You were persistent. You would not give up.

Who or what in our world or in your life needs your focus and attention? Who or what do you need to pray and pray and pray for? How else can you affect change? Maybe it is the divided in our nation and among us. Maybe it is for a friend in an unjust situation. Maybe it is for the homeless or the orphans or the single parents or for the foster care system.

Whatever it is, remember that the parable is about always praying and never giving up. It must be so because we pray to a God who will bring about justice. May we go to God again and again, trusting God to act.

Prayer: Lord God, you are gracious and merciful and loving. You are a champion of justice and peace and wholeness. Lord, bring your power to bear on our hurting and broken world. Amen.


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Abundantly Poured Out

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verses 13-14: “Even though I once was… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly.”

In the Epistle reading for this week Paul describes the change that God has worked in him. He wants young Timothy to understand how God can work in his life too. Many people looked at the change worked by God in Paul’s life and thought it a radical change. It was only radical in one way. Paul was as zealous as ever. He was committed to the cause as passionately as ever. Paul still spoke with great skill and power. His faith and trust were now in Jesus Christ instead of in the Law. That is what changed. This simple change in focus changed Paul’s life.

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young man who has shown some gifts and graces. He has accompanied others on their evangelical and missional trips. He has been poured into by these men as well as by his faithful family. It is now time for him to begin to lead. God has been slowly and steadily shaping Timothy’s life to be a leader in the early church. God is at work changing Timothy’s life too.

God continues to be at work in these ways and more. God is ever at work, guiding us, leading us, refining us. Sometimes it manifests itself as it did in Paul. We use the gifts and talents that God has given us – just not for God’s glory. Then in a moment our focus changes and we become focused on Christ and others, being filled with God’s love and grace. Sometimes it is the long walk of faith that guides us, God patiently yet surely working in and through us to reveal God’s glory in increasing measure.

In order for God to work in our lives we too must be touched by God’s abundant grace. This is a touch that reaches out to all people. May it be abundantly poured out in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, I invite your touch. Shape me and form me, lead me and direct me, refine and purify me. Day by day may you use me in increasing measure, reflecting your grace, love, and mercy to the world. Amen.


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Jesus’ Charge

Reading: Luke 8:26-39

Verse 39: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Today’s passage from Luke 8 is powerful. Jesus and the disciples come ashore and are met be a man who is possessed by many demons. These evils spirits have driven him out of community. He lives alone and naked, out in the tombs. These evil spirits immediately recognize Jesus and they fear his power. After freeing the man from these many demons – notice that Jesus does not force them out but that they leave the man because he is in Jesus’ presence – the man is found sitting at Jesus’ feet, “dressed and in his right mind.”

How easy it is for us to become hardened and possessed by things. Sometimes it comes from within me – pride, anger, jealousy, control, addiction… These things can possess me. Sometimes it is from without – racism, ageism, sexism, politics… These things too can possess me. When these things, or a combination of them, become my focus, my driving force, they indeed take possession of the Spirit in me, leaving me naked, wretched, blind. But even in this state Jesus will come, will be present, reminding me of who and whose I am.

After healing the demon possessed man, there is fallout. There is a financial cost. But the loss of the pigs is not what drives the villagers to ask Jesus to leave. No, it is fear. Fear that Jesus might drive their demons out too. Fear that Jesus might change their lives too. We must also be prepared for the same response. Yes, people are glad that we’re no longer angry or controlling or biased or prejudice. But don’t “force” that stuff on them, don’t “make” them change. Like with the man in our passage, Jesus’ presence leads to change. So we’ll be asked to leave too. Yet in that moment may we remember who and whose we are and may Jesus’ charge ring in our ears too: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Prayer: Lord God, please continue to work in me, refining me, reshaping me, transforming me into who you want me to be. Empower me to tell the good news of what you’ve done for me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Go in Power

Reading: Luke 24:44-53

Verse 47: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in my name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

At the beginning of his ministry Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing himself to be in ministry. At the end of his time on earth, Jesus spends 40 days preparing his followers to carry on his ministry. On this last day, Jesus summarizes and reinforces his time with them, together in ministry. Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.” It is the next to last step.

Jesus begins their commission in verse 47. Here he says, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in my name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” The disciples will begin in Jerusalem and then will spread out into the world, preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. He reminds them, “You are witnesses.” They have seen lives changed; they have been present when hearts have been made new. They know firsthand the power of Christ to transform lives. And, in verse 49, Jesus promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. We will celebrate the giving of this gift soon, as the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost, clothing the disciples with Jesus’ power. Filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, the disciples will proclaim Jesus to the world.

Today, on Ascension Day, may we too accept the commission anew, committing ourselves to the sharing of the good news. Jesus continues to transform lives and to bring healing to our broken world. Like the disciples, we too need the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. May we pause at times, allowing the Spirit to fill us, to lead and guide us, to help us discern the path, and to go before us. Filled in these ways, may we then go forth in power, witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, flood my heart and mind with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Open me up to you, filling me with your words and your love. Speak to my heart and mind today, Lord, and use me to spread the good news of Jesus Christ with a world in need. Amen.


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All Around Us

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 29: “We must obey God rather than men.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

As we return to Acts 5 today we look at the apostles’ basis for their actions. When asked why they continue to teach in Jesus’ name when they’ve been ordered to stop, they reply: “We must obey God rather than men.” For the religious leaders, in general, they would agree with this statement. In fact, it was the basis for some of their interactions with the Romans. The place of conflict with this statement in this situation is with where it intersected with their authority and power. It is the same today with those in power in both secular and religious institutions: practicing or exercising ones faith is fine as long as one still follows their rules. It is when faith conflicts with established laws or norms or rules that it can become controversial, dangerous, costly.

Today and tomorrow millions will go to churches, synagogues, mosques… to worship, to pray. No religious leader or civic authority will bat an eye. Many will be pleased. In a generic way, religion is a community-positive thing. It teaches conformity, respect for rules, doing good for others. This was how the Romans saw Judaism. So how does faith create conflict or tension within a community or in larger levels of society?

In happens when faith shifts from passive to active. It is often a subtle shift. Faith can compel us to help a neighbor or one in need. Maybe it begins with helping a single mother with her electric bill. All are happy, pleased. That interaction leads to bringing food and some clothes for the children. All are happy, pleased. Once there, in the home, seeing the poor conditions, one is moved to intervene, to speak out, to try and remedy the situation. Not all are happy. Someone is upset that those Christians are poking around in their business. There is tension and conflict. This is but one simple example. It is one way that obeying God and living an active faith can lead to a place of conflict and tension.

So, a question to ponder today: what are the conditions, circumstances, or situations in your neighborhood or community that need addressed, changed, redeemed?

Prayer: Lord God, lead your church to engage in our communities and with our neighbors. Guide us to those who need a voice or a hand, or maybe both. Give us a willingness to obey your love, your justice, your ways. Give us the courage to choose right and just over comfortable and easy. Let it begin with me. Amen.


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More Open, More Accessible

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 31: “God exalted him… that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.”

As we begin in Acts 5 today we focus on Jesus’ gifts of repentance and forgiveness. This was the primary conflict point between Jesus and the religious leaders. To the Jews, forgiveness came through the priests, the temple, the sacrificial system. It has been that way since Moses led the people on the 40 year wander. To the Israelites it feels like this has been the way back to God for, well, forever. It is practically all they’ve ever known. The rituals, the sacrifice, the role of priests – it was all threatened by Jesus and now is being challenged by his followers. The apostles were teaching and preaching about repentance and forgiveness and they were healing and forgiving sins in Jesus’ name.

There has always been and definitely remains a personal aspect to repentance and forgiveness. In Protestant denominations these are things we practice on a daily (or more frequent) basis. While we remember and celebrate Holy Communion, we believe that we can repent and receive forgiveness anytime, anywhere, on our own. The shift away from priests and the temple and the whole sacrificial system was a seismic shift in Jesus’ day and in the years to follow. This radical change to a more open and accessible church created great tension with the powers that be – enough to kill Jesus, enough to persecute and eventually martyr many who would follow Jesus.

How does the church today maintain this spirit? How do we as Christians stand up to keep the church open and accessible? How do the powers that be seek to work against these things? In many ways this is our charge to resist and oppose evil and injustice in the world. It is our call to stand with the widows and orphans, with all who are marginalized or oppressed by our culture, society, and even the larger church. It is therefore also our call to continue to move the church forward, ever drawing the circle wider, ever making the church more open and more accessible. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be one who opens the door just a bit wider, who makes welcome just a bit more real. Empower me to do this again tomorrow and again the days after. Give me eyes and heart to see and connect to all of your beloved children. Amen.


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The In Between

Reading: Matthew 27:57-66

Verse 65: “‘Take a guard,’ Pilate said. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how'”.

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

Today is Holy Saturday. It is a day in between. We too spend much time “in between” in our lives. Some we are aware of: in between engagement and marriage, in between separation and divorce. In between pregnancy and birth, in between illness and death. In between our old job and our new job, in between a first date and courtship. Some we are not aware of as they are happening. Change is afoot but we do not perceive it. And then it is suddenly here. And some of the time we sense that things are changing but we cannot quite discern the details. In most of these things there is a lot of emotion. In some cases there is excitement, anticipation, joy. In others there is uncertainty, insecurity, fear, angst.

As we read today’s passage, we tend to read it knowing that Sunday is coming. But today – at least for a few minutes – read it from the point of view of the religious leaders, of Pilate. Read it from the upper room or wherever the terrified disciples and followers of Jesus were gathered. Uncertain, insecure, and fearfully the religious authorities ask for a guard to be placed at the tomb. Pilate says, “Take a guard. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how”. As secure as you know how. That’s how we like life too, isn’t it?

Sit with these emotions for a moment – caught in between all that Jesus Christ said and did and the moment he was laid in the tomb. In between the clear signs of God with him and the words about rising in three days. Venture into the room with Jesus’ people. Find space there in between the sorrow and grief of death and the fear of hearing a knock at the door, in between comforting one another and the thought of a crowd showing up for you too. God’s blessings as you sit some with Holy Saturday.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me into the depth of this day. Draw me into this in between moment in the great arc of faith’s story, to these moments of waiting and feeling. Amen.


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Recognizing the Lord

Reading: Luke 19:28-38

Verse 38: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”

We begin and end this week with a passage from Luke 19. Next Sunday we will celebrate Palm Sunday – Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That event begins what is known as “Holy Week.” It is Jesus’ last days on earth. It culminates with his death on Good Friday. Then the story is gloriously climaxed on Easter Sunday as Jesus Christ is resurrected. This week we begin with the palm parade.

In the opening 7 verses of our passage we see the divine at work. Jesus sends two disciples to fetch a colt from a stranger. He tells them where to go and where to find the colt. He tells them that they’ll be asked about what they’re doing and he tells them what to say in response. Pause for a minute. Think about these verses, about this story. How would this impact your faith and your relationship with Jesus if you were one of the two disciples?

When the owners hear why someone is taking their colt – “The Lord needs it” – they allow it to happen. What would lead them to do this? Perhaps they had encountered or experienced Jesus. Maybe he had healed or taught in their village. Maybe they were friends with Lazarus. Or maybe the Holy Spirit led them to allow the colt to be led away. Jesus mounts the colt and people begin to spread their cloaks on the ground, forming a crude royal carpet.

As Jesus and his disciples near Jerusalem, as they head down from the Mount of Olives, the “crowd of disciples” begins to celebrate. We can assume this crowd contained both new and old disciples – ones who have long followed Jesus and some who are drawn to him now. The crowd shouts, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” They recognize Jesus as king. They proclaim him “Lord” and rejoice in the peace he will bring. Recognizing Jesus as Lord changes everything. How will you and I live into this truth this week?

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior this day and this week. By my faith, by my witness, by my example, may others be drawn to the Prince of Peace, to the Lord of Lords. Amen.


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Presence

Reading: Luke 9:28-36

Verse 29: “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”

The inner three – Peter, James, and John – are brought up the mountain with Jesus. Jesus begins by praying to God, by connecting to God. As Jesus is praying, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” Jesus is transfigured. He is changed into something more divine, radiant with the glory of God. Peter, James, and John are present to this version of Jesus. Moses and Elijah come and talk with Jesus about his impending death in Jerusalem. The disciples hear once again about what will soon happen. A cloud envelops them and God tells Peter, James, and John, “This is my son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” And then it is just Peter, James, and John with Jesus. It is over as suddenly as it began.

Why did Jesus choose to have Peter, James, and John there? A practical reason is so that this amazing story gets into the Bible. While true, there has to be more. First, it reveals the glory of Christ in a new way. It paints in their minds an image of the divinity and glory that will be the eternal Christ in heaven. Second, it changes Peter, James, and John’s understanding of Jesus. Jesus has been declared the Messiah. The miracles and the teachings show his power. In the transfiguration the disciples get a clearer picture of what God in the flesh looks like from the heavenly perspective. The stories of Moses coming down the mountain with his face aglow – they have seen what did that for themselves. Third, it changes them. They will never look at Jesus the same nor will their faith ever be the same. Peter, James, and John now know the glory of God in Jesus Christ in a deeper, more personal way. The inner three will carry this glory forever in their hearts.

On our journeys of faith we too have encounters with Jesus that forever change us. We experience moments when his presence is tangible, times when the Spirit speaks, times when prayers are answered or when doors are opened… Just as the disciples did may we too tell these stories of our faith, encouraging and helping others to better see and understand the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for those moments when your presence was felt and was real. Thank you for the times when you’ve clearly guided, provided, strengthened, protected me. Amen.