pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Presence of God

Reading: Mark 1: 4-8

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

As we delve into Mark’s gospel we get right into the years of Jesus’ ministry. The first gospel written jumps right in with John the Baptist. Quoting from the Old Testament, John’s authority is established. John is the prophet spoken of long ago and is the one sent to “prepare the way” for the Lord. John was very different in his approach. In verse four we read, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. He set up out in the wilderness, a place representing the condition of people’s souls at this point. He dressed and ate differently than any other religious leader. His open air, honest, straight forward style was different and was a foreshadowing of the ministry of Jesus.

Many people came out into the desert to hear John. His words brought a quick conviction and a renewed dedication. Many people stepped into the river to confess their sins and to commit to a more devout life. They did so because the presence of God was evident in John’s life. The Spirit if God upon John drew others to want to know God in a more personal, more intimate way. The presence of God could not be ignored.

Wouldn’t that be a great thing for others to say about you? To notice about you? I think so! As we each consider the living out of each day, may we seek to make God known through our words and actions and attitudes. May we be set apart from the world, pointing to the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: God of all, so fill me with your Holy Spirit that all will see you in me and in my life. May your presence abound in all I say and do and think, bringing you the glory and praise. Amen.


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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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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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Rejoice in the Love

Reading: Psalm 107: 33-37

Verse 35: “He turned the desert into pools of water and parched ground into flowing springs”.

While many of the Psalms are often songs of thanksgiving overall, they do have their honest moments too. The psalmists, to their credit, acknowledge the failures and sins of the past. This is the case in today’s passage. In verses 33 and 34 the rivers turn into deserts and the fruitful land becomes a wasteland. This happens, we read, because of the people’s wickedness. In our own way, we experience this when we sin. Our sin separates us from God. In that place, our joy and hope seems to “dry up” and life feels empty and barren. This is not God’s doing, but our doing. As we ourselves are still present, it just feels like God has left.

This state of drought or dryness, of being parched and hungry – it does not last. Through God’s steadfast love and unending mercy, the desert becomes a pool and there is food for the hungry. In our Psalm, as God sometimes does, things are not just restored to what they were. If that were the case, the Psalm would end in verse 35. God blesses the people, giving them a place to live and providing good land to plant fields and vineyards. Life will not just be bearable or tolerable – it will be good and it will be blessed. God’s generous spirit will be evident to the people of faith.

We too rejoice in the love of God. I close with verse 43 from this same Psalm: “Whoever is wise, let him [or her] heed these things and consider the great love of God”. Yes, may we too be grateful as we think of God’s great love.

Prayer: Father God, each day you are so good to me. My thanks is ever yours. I too know that in the difficult days, in the times of hardship and suffering, you will be right there. Thank you for your presence and love that are always with me. Amen.


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Learning to Walk

Reading: Matthew 22: 1-12

Verse 12: “Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes”?

This week’s gospel lesson is the second in a row from Jesus that focuses in on how he is rejected. They are stories of greed and arrogance and selfishness. These two parables are aimed at the religious leaders in their original context, but they certainly have application for us today.

As our passage opens, Jesus is clear that this parable compares the kingdom of God to a wedding banquet. Jesus begins by explaining that those originally invited refuse to come. A second invite is rejected as well. This time those invited mistreat and kill the servants. A voice had called out in the desert. Some came and heard the call to repentance. They were baptized as a symbol of readiness for the coming kingdom. But John’s call fell on many deaf ears as he ministered in the wilderness. Jesus himself came with a second invite, calling the Jews to really love as God commanded. Jesus’ message centered on the two great commandments: love God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The religious leaders refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah, so the call or invite extended past the Jews. Anyone that can be found will be invited to the wedding banquet.

The religious leaders went out and heard John’s call. They hung around and heard Jesus’ words, saw the miracles. Showing up is something about anyone can do. There are folks that show up on Sunday mornings. Simply sitting in a worship service does not make one into a practicing Christian. In our parable today, a man comes to the banquet, but he is not prepared. He chose to hear the call, but failed to ready himself. In Jesus’ day, to attend a wedding, one must dress in the required wedding clothes. These clothes were special and required effort and preparation. But this man just showed up. He was simply there to consume and indulge, not to really be a part of things, not to celebrate with the bride and groom. The Jews and the religious leaders in particular had received the invitations. They still showed up for the Sabbath, thinking they were honoring God simply be being there. They went about their lofty rituals and wore their fancy clothes. They loved these things, not God. They were arrogant and selfish, loving only self and not the many neighbors who needed both physical and spiritual care. They lived inside their self-constructed walls.

We too do this. We do it on Sundays when we show up and go through the motions instead of being open to and looking for God’s Spirit to change us on a Sunday morning. We do it each day when we rush off into our day without first connecting to God in word and prayer. We do it each time we think ourselves a Christian and then ignore the poverty, oppression, and injustices of our communities and our world. Simply put, it is easy to talk the talk. It is much harder to always walk the walk. May we all better learn to walk the walk as we seek to follow Jesus Christ, loving as he first loved each of us.

Prayer: God of all, help me to more fully love you and all people. Turn me from selfishness and self-righteousness, becoming more and more willing to give myself away, becoming more and more willing to risk for the gospel. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Anything

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 4: “Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What am I to do with these people'”?

As the people come to be in need of water, they come to Moses and they quarrel with him about it. He is their leader. There is no water. They want Moses to do something about it. Moses realizes that he cannot do anything about it so he turns to the one who can. Even though he was frustrated, Moses turns to God and God responds by providing water from a rock in the middle of the desert.

I cannot blame Moses for being a bit frustrated. Time and time again the people have quarreled and tested both Moses and God. So much so that Moses names the place of the miracle as such! Moses does what he should do – he goes to God. Unfortunately many of us do not follow this example, myself included, especially in my past. When something was wrong or needed taken care of, I fixed it or did it. That was my nature. I was a “doer”. So much so, when I was moved to my first church as the only pastor, I had to learn a couple of hard lessons. I was warned by my district superintendent not to just do everything. He made my natural leaning seem like a bad thing. Even though I was warned not to do everything, to allow others to do, I had a learning curve that proved the wisdom of his words.

Whether it is pride or the need to be in control that drives us to be a doer or if it is fear of failure or of disappointing others that drives us to get inaction, like Moses, a quick turn towards God should be our first step. And often our second and third and…

In our passage today, God pretty much ignored Moses’ frustration. God led Moses to a rock, which he struck, and water poured out. Read that again. Yes, water came from a rock in the middle of the desert. God can do anything. Anything. If we but turn. Like Moses, may our attitude be one of surrender and may our first steps be toward God. Then we too will see and experience the amazing power of God.

Prayer: Lord God, continue to mold and shape me into who you intend me to be. I am grateful for the journey so far, and I know there is far to go. I am even thankful for the times you’ve had to squash the clay, to begin almost from scratch – painful but necessary steps in my process. Day by day, lead and guide me, shape and form me, O God. Amen.


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Even Water from a Rock

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 5: “Walk on ahead of these people. Take with you some of the elders… the staff… and go”.

Out in the desert the people raise up a cry for water. It is human nature at times to complain and grumble and argue. As it is not the first time, Moses struggles to hear their concern. We too have experienced times when our relationships have been strained. In those moments we can be like the Israelites or like Moses. When I notice and am upset by silly little things like a dish left in the sink or by an overfull trash can being piled on top of, I know that there is a deeper issue that needs addressed. In a similar way, when a fellow employee or colleague keeps up a steady line of complaints about small things, there is always a deeper, more personal hurt or fear just behind the surface level stuff. In both of these examples, the issue or the hurt or fear may be in another part of life. Home or work just feels like the safest place to manifest these emotions.

The Israelites are experiencing freedom for the first time. All they needed had been provided by the Egyptians. They were even told how, when, and what to do. Now they find themselves out in the desert, wandering from place to place. They latch onto the first issue and focus on the lack of water. Moses gets frustrated immediately. The pressure of leading and meeting needs is starting to mount. In their own ways, both are questioning or beginning to doubt God. In their minds they ask questions like: Is God still leading us? Does God still love us? Does Moses/God know where he is going? All of these questions nobody wants to ask are manifest in the cry for water. It boils down to fear and needing some reassurance.

God calls a timeout. He tells Moses, “Walk on ahead of these people. Take with you some of the elders… the staff… and go”. Get a little perspective. Step away for a second. Take a few leaders so that they can see first-hand and then be voices to reassure the people. And take the staff – the one that split the sea. Remember that? It represented God’s presence once and will do so again – both for the people and for Moses. Without naming the fear, God addresses it by reassuring Moses and the people that God can even bring water from a rock if that’s what needs done. God is saying, “You can trust me”.

Reading these stories remind us too of God’s love and care for his children. With God, anything is possible. May we trust in God’s plans, allowing his love and care to sustain us on our journey, no matter what may come. If God can bring water from a rock, God has us covered. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, help me not to complain, not to grumble. Help me instead to trust fully in your love. Remind me of that love in my moments of doubt and worry. Lift me and sustain me, O God. 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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God Restores

Reading: Psalm 126: 4-6

Verse 5: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

In our song of ascent this week we acknowledge with the psalmist that life is not always rosy. There will be times when it feels like our fortunes need restored too. The Negev is a dry, desert-like place in the southern part of Israel. There are many dry stream beds that flow only during the seasonal rains. In the understanding of the day, when God sends rain, it restores life and all are blessed. Looking to God in our dry or testing times can remind us of how God has restored us before and brought life back to us. To ask God to do that again is to remind ourselves that God is faithful and loving and will respond once again.

In verse 5 the psalmist writes, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”. In our day to day lives, the real world continues along. The sun will rise soon this morning, bringing light and warmth to the earth. The rains will perhaps fall here today and will push on to the east later in the day. All over the community students will make their way to school and adults will go to work. Some will go with a sadness or a hurt because of a situation or circumstance in their own lives. In our Psalm, some go out to work to sow seeds because that is what needs done that day. Some of these sow in tears. But like the rains that refresh the desert and bring life, God will restore the fortunes of those who weep. They will find joy in life and will harvest with songs of joy. They will bring in the sheaves with joy because God has poured down His blessings into their souls and lives with His presence and love and provision.

In our memory banks we can recall dry seasons that we have walked through. As people of faith we store them up not to remember the trials but to remind ourselves of how God was present in the trial and of how God led us past or out of the trial. We remember how God’s blessings restored our faith over and over. We build hope and trust in God’s continued love and care and provision from this day forevermore. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, you are so faithful and so good to me. Over and over again you have restored me and brought joy and hope back into my life. Thank you also for my times in the desert because there I come to know you face to face. Amen.


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Restored and Redeemed

Reading: Joshua 5: 9-12

Verse 9: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you”.

In our passage today, the Israelites have just moved into the Promised Land. God parted the Jordan River and they crossed over on dry ground. It is purposefully reminiscent of their crossing of the sea during their exodus from Egypt 40 years ago. The trip from the Red Sea to the Jordan River is not a 40 year walk. We recall that the Israelites wrestled with sin and doubt over and over again, leading them to “take one more lap around the desert”, as my good friend Kent likes to say.

All the men of “military age” that left Egypt have died in the desert and the people enter into the land first promised to Abraham. As a sign of their covenant relationship, also established under Abraham, all the males are circumcised. This was a physical sign of belonging, much as baptism is a sacred and symbolic sign of our belonging to the family of God. Now we get to today’s passage. After the circumcisions are complete, God says to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you”. In Egypt the people were slaves, they were heavily oppressed, and they experienced pain and suffering. In marking the Israelites as the chosen people once again, God is rolling away the time in Egypt and delivering them to a new land and back into relationship with Him. God is restoring and redeeming the people.

It was the people’s sin that made the journey last 40 years. If the Israelites were without sin, they could have walked straight from Egypt to the Promised Land in a matter of weeks. We too walk a similar path.

Our journey to become more and more like Jesus takes a lifetime. For those blessed with long life, it can take longer than 40 years. If we were without sin we would profess Jesus as Lord and Savior and go straight to heaven. But we are not without sin. Our faith journey, no matter how long or short, is just like the Israelites’ wander in the desert. We have times when we are very close to God in our walk of faith. We have our moments when God parts the sea and we walk right through it. But we also have times when we sin and live outside of a relationship with God. We have times when we worship idols and when we choose to separate ourselves from God. Just as God did not leave the Israelites to all die in the desert, God does not leave us lost in our sin. Why? Because God loves us. God reminds us over and over that we are all a beloved child of God and God goes to work over and over to restore and redeem us once again. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, at times I wander. We all do. When I do, call my name, bring me back to you. Restore and redeem me from my sins. But that is not all I am. At times, I walk closely with you, rejoicing in your love and presence. Help me to be there more often. Thank you Lord. Amen.