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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Go, Prepare the Way

Reading: Luke 1:76-79

Verse 76: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

Continuing today in Zechariah’s Song, the praise shifts to the role his own son will play in God’s plan. John the Baptist will be called “a prophet of the Most High.” John’s ministry will be out in the wilderness, along the Jordan River. Preaching about the good news soon to come, he will “give his people a knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” John will call people to repent of their sins to prepare their hearts for the coming Messiah. A baptism of repentance will symbolize their readiness to walk with Christ. This gift of salvation is available “because of the tender mercies of our God.” It’s not just mercy, but tender mercy. I love the image that this line creates. Oh the depth of God’s love for you and me!

In verse 76 Zechariah defines John’s primary task: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” No one meets Jesus without someone telling them about Jesus. No one experiences “the rising sun from heaven” coming into their lives to “shine on those living in darkness” without someone going on to prepare their heart to receive Jesus. John called others and prepared them both through his words and his example. He was faithful in his living and was engaging and encouraging with his words.

Just before his final departure to return to heaven, Jesus gave all who follow him this task: “Go and make disciples of all nations… baptizing them… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Just as John did, we are to do to. Living faithfully as a follower of Jesus Christ, may we draw others to the Son, bringing his light and love into the darkness. In Christ’s light and love, may they too experience the tender mercies of God.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live a simple, faithful life, one that reflects your light and love out into the world’s darkness. As others are drawn to the light, grant me the words and actions to prepare the way for them to receive your son as Lord and Savior. All for your glory, O God! Amen.


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Are You Willing?

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-8

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you a part.”

In verse 5 we hear Jeremiah’s call story. God is addressing him, readying him to begin his ministry. The Lord says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” This amazing statement is true for all of us. Before God’s hands brought our cells together, before God began to weave us together, God knew us. God knew our essence, our soul, our spirit. God knew who and what we were going to be created for before our first cells were formed. What an amazing and powerful thought.

Yet it gets better: “Before you were born I set you a part.” Woven together by God with a purpose for our lives, we were also set apart by God to live as a child of God. Created by God as a child of God we are to reflect our creator to the world. For each of us, God has a plan for how we are to do that. For Jeremiah, God created him to be a prophet. That might be what God created you to be too. Or maybe God created you to be a banker or a custodian, a mechanic or a lawyer, a business owner or a mom, a pastor or a carpenter, a chef or a firefighter… Whatever our vocation, we remain called by God to live a life set apart.

In verse 6 we hear Jeremiah’s ‘buts.’ we have them too. But God… Yet God says, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. I am with you.” God says the same thing to our ‘buts.’ Before I formed you… I knew you. Before you breathed your first breath, I set you apart. If we are willing, these are God’s truths and God’s promises. Are you willing?

Prayer: Lord God, it is amazing to consider that you have a vision for me and for each of us. You put me together in a unique and special way – to accomplish what you set me apart for. Wow. And you promise to go with me, step by step, word by word, deed by deed. Wowza! Thank you, God. Amen.


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Giants

Reading: 1st Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, and 32-49

Verse 32: “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him”.

Photo credit: Steve Halama

We enter today into a familiar story. Israel and the Philistines are at war again. They are encamped across the valley from one another and each day Goliath comes out to challenge the Israelites: “Choose a man and have him come down to me”. No one from the Israelite camp is raising a hand; no one is jumping up and down saying to King Saul, ‘Pick me! Pick me’! At the sight of this nine foot tall behemoth the Israelites are “dismayed and terrified”. Day after day this scenario plays out. Day after day Israel is dismayed and terrified.

We all have our giants. In 7th grade it was a bully named Leo. He towered over me in many ways. When I was nineteen it was going to my parents to tell them I’d failed out of college. At three stops in my twenties I worried and stressed about being a good father for these three little human beings. At 47 I was a bit terrified and a lot unsure about the future as I left my career of 23 years to enter vocational ministry. In my mid fifties now, I still worry and stress about being good enough, about letting go and letting God lead, and about the upcoming rupture in my denomination and most likely in my church. There are days when the old giants come back and haunt me. There are days now when my current giants hold me back in fear. We all have our giants.

David arrives at the battle front just as Goliath is once again shouting down the Israelites. Brought before Saul, David says, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him”. The Spirit of the Lord that came upon David when he was anointed by Samuel remains strong as ever in him. With full trust in God, David slays Goliath “in the name of the Lord Almighty”. The battle truly belonged to the Lord.

This is true for you and for me too. Yet in our battles with our giants we try and fight on our own. Some days I flail against my fears and doubts and other days I don’t even step near the battle line. On these days my giants win without a fight. But what if we did not fight alone? What if we “gave it all” into God’s hands – ourselves and our giants? If we would but do this then our giants would fall “facedown on the ground”. May it be so for you and for me. The battle belongs to the Lord.

Prayer: God of heaven’s armies and my little battles, go with me today. Remind me that I too am anointed by your Holy Spirit. Remind me that you are the only one in control so that I can fully trust in you, the Lord Almighty. I fight on my knees now, giving it all to you. Amen.


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Steadfast and True

Reading: Jonah 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you”.

Today and tomorrow we will look at Jonah’s calling and at how the sinful city of Nineveh responded. Just as Samuel was called and just as we are called, there was no mistaking God’s call upon Jonah. God wanted to use Jonah for a specific purpose. Unfortunately, I am sometimes like Jonah – a little reluctant, a lot influenced by my own sense of what is right or who is worthy of God’s love. Remember Jonah’s initial response to God’s call? He ran in the opposite direction. Spit out on the shore, this is God’s second attempt to use Jonah to save Nineveh from its sins. In verse two God directs Jonah: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you”. God’s message to Nineveh is like Paul’s message to the church in Corinth. Like Paul was in 1st Corinthians 6, God is direct with his message: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned”.

Sometimes this is how I need God to talk to me: short and direct, not much wiggle room, hard to misunderstand. Sometimes I need words that communicate the gravity or importance of the message. Just as we will see with the Ninevites tomorrow, God’s direct and clear message compels me to action. It is in these moments that I hear and feel God’s love and care for me. It would surely be easier to just let me continue off on my own path. It would be easier to let Nineveh continue down the road to self-destruction. But this is not God’s nature. God loves all of creation and wants to see all redeemed, all brought within his abundant love and gracious care. So God, like with Nineveh, pursues us. Often God pursues us over and over, just like he did with Jonah.

God is steadfast and true. His love never fails. His pursuit is endless. Being reminded of all this today, knowing once again of God’s love and care for all people everywhere, may we respond by going where we are led today. May we hear the call and may we bear God’s love and care to the people and places where God sends us.

Prayer: Lord God, it is good to be reminded of your steadfast love and grace and mercy. Open my ears to your call and my ears to where you want to send me. Guide my hands and feet to share your love and care and mercy with others. Amen.


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God’s Design

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5:11

Verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

On our faith journeys, we can try and go it alone. We are embarrassed by or ashamed of our sins and failures. We go through the motions of faith and pretend we are doing okay when our faith feels dry or when a trial has beset us. We try and push through seasons of doubt because society tells us we just need to try harder. Our pride and ego refuses to ask for help. But God did not design faith to be this way. God designed faith to be a communal pursuit. Yet if we are to truly be a part of the community of faith, if we are going to have real and deep relationships, then we must be honest and transparent, authentic and vulnerable, committed and compassionate.

Our passage today is just one verse. Again, it reads: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. Because the world is challenging, because the dark and evil are ever present, Paul knows that the believers need to be surrounded by Christian community. Paul begins by telling us to encourage one another. To be able to encourage one another, we need to really know how we each are doing. This is where honesty… comes into play. We must be willing to share our burdens with one another. We must also be willing to carry another’s burdens at times. We must be willing to tell others when our faith feels thin, allowing them to pour into us and to fill us up. Similarly, we must be willing to give of ourselves, to pour into another as we are able. Paul also urges us to build one another up. We do this by sharing our faith. This can be actual teaching or it can be living the faith so others can see what it looks like. Pastors and teachers and small group leaders and mentors are all a part of this process. We also build one another up by being present. We celebrate successes and achievements, we rejoice when a baby is born, we bring food and love and presence in times of hardship and suffering and loss.

The church in Thessalonica was living as a community. It was how God designed the church. As we ponder these thoughts today, may we each consider how we could encourage and build up the body of Christ this week.

Prayer: Living God, lead me by the power of the Holy Spirit to be an encourager and a builder. Help me to see the ways that I can help the community of faith to be like a family, like the heavenly fellowship that we all await. Bind us together in your love. Amen.


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Building the Kingdom

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse 3: “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, and even life forevermore”.

Over the course of Israel’s history the reading or singing of this Psalm would evoke many reactions and thoughts. At times it was sung whole heartedly, rejoicing in God’s presence and blessings. At other times it was sung with sadness, a memory of better times. Today many of us reading the Psalm identify with the rejoicing times. We are happy and comfortable and well cared for. Our jobs and families are rewarding. Yet some, even here in the land of opportunity and of plenty, read this Psalm and wonder, “When?” And others look in from outside; their question is “How?”

In is easy for us to live in unity and in Christian community within our churches and neighborhoods. It is comfortable to stay there, where all is familiar and safe. Yet if we are to be a part of realizing true unity and community with all of God’s children, we must step outside of our little world and engage the people who live in places where food, shelter, education, and other necessities are lacking or are non-existent. Yes, this is the immigration centers and the food deserts in many cities. Yes, this is many of our reservations. But it is also our neighborhoods and our communities. In every single community there are families struggling to provide the basics. In all communities there are people with emotional and spiritual needs – the abused, the grieving, the lonely, the sick.

The last line of today’s Psalm reads, “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, and even life forevermore”. In places where Christ’s love is known, yes, there are blessings and the hope of life everlasting. It is in your home, it is in my home. But it is not universal. It is not even in every house in our neighborhoods. May we each be a part of the building of God’s kingdom here on earth, venturing to where the hurt and need of the world must meet God’s love and care and provision… and blessing. May we go forth in love.

Prayer: Loving God, as I get to know my community, slowly in this time of pandemic, lead me to the places that really need to know your love. Guide me to be love and compassion in these places, sharing all that I am and all that I have. Amen.


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Willing

Reading: Psalm 122:1 – “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'”.

Each Sunday many of us live out these words. It is a wonderful and awesome thing when we gather to worship the Lord. There is a peace and a comfort, a majesty and a power, when we gather in the sanctuary to pray and sing and proclaim God’s word. As we are on the edge of Advent, there is an elevated sense of anticipation and even a bump in our level of hospitality. The Advent themes of peace, hope, love, and joy add to the depth of our worship and to the overall experience of the season.

As Thanksgiving looms tomorrow, many of us will be thankful for our church homes, for our church families, and for the many other ways that God blesses us. May we rejoice in these gifts from God! But may our rejoicing also remind us that there are many who go without these this time of year. There are a variety of reasons for this. None are absolute barriers. Our joy and celebration with God can work in two ways. It can elevate their absence in those who do not know or experience these things. Or it can draw them in. As disciples yet living under the great commission to go out into the world, teaching others about Jesus, may we be invitational this sacred time of the year. May we offer radical hospitality, especially to those without a church home and without a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through us, may our friends and neighbors who do not have these blessings feel our love and God’s love drawing them in. May we all be willing.

Prayer: God of all, through me offer words of invitation and welcome, words of hope and belonging. Make our church and the people in it a safe and blessed space and family. May your love flow out, being poured into others today. Amen.


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Rise and Go

Reading: Luke 17: 11-19

Verses 12-13: “Ten men who had leprosy… stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us'”.

In our passage today, Jesus has compassion on a group of people living on the edge of society. The lepers are forced to live outside of the village. They are cut off from society. The disease they have has separated them from family and friends. The isolation causes them to call out to Jesus from a distance. The lepers have learned to stay isolated. Jesus simply directs them to go to the priests. As they demonstrate obedience, they are healed as they went. For these people who have been living outside of society, outside of the synagogues and the temple, to take steps toward these people and places – it must have been so hard. As they trust, they are healed by Jesus.

When our lives have been spotted by sin, we too can have a hard time taking those first steps back towards God. Until we get to the point where conviction leads to repentance, we can keep ourselves isolated from God. As people of faith, though, we know that we can repent and find mercy, grace, forgiveness, and restoration. Like the lepers, as we take those first obedient steps to confess and repent, we are cleansed of our sin and we are made new again. Praise be to God, right?

Yes and amen! Of course. But that cannot be all. Like the one leper who returned to Jesus, we too must have some responses. The first is to praise Jesus, to thank him over and over for the many works done in our lives. The second is to help others experience the healing power of Jesus Christ.

Our story of what Jesus has done for us is the story of what Jesus has done and can do for others. We each first live this out in our day to day lives, being Christ in the world. Our lifestyle is our first form of evangelism. But our story is also unique and specific. There are individuals out there that need to hear our story. This is our second response. To a fellow addict, to a fellow absentee father, to a fellow nominal Christian, to a fellow divorcee, to a fellow… our personal story of faith can bring those who are where we once were hope and new life. The leper was told, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well”. This too is our charge. May we live and tell our story well.

Prayer: Lord my God, thank you for your hand that has guided me, redirected me, convicted me, saved me. Your love for me is so amazing. Give me opportunities to share that love with others. Amen.


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Rock of Refuge

Reading: Psalm 71: 1-3

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”.

The opening three verses of Psalm 71 exude trust in God. The psalmist first turns to God as refuge. A refuge is a safe place that we can go to. It is a place where we can rest and recover a bit. It is a place set apart from the storms of life. God can be our refuge.

We all feel the need for refuge now and then. Life may have brought unexpected change and we need a moment to catch our breath and to figure out our new path forward. Our faith or our beliefs may cause us to feel some persecution and after a good bit of this we need to find refuge to regain strength and maybe focus. There are many other reasons we can seek refuge in God.

Because God is righteous, the psalmist asks God to rescue and deliver him. He begs God to hear his pleas. In the storms of life we can feel under assault. We can feel the need to be rescued. Sometimes we bring the storm upon ourselves. When we allow sin to gain a foothold, we invite the storm. When conviction sets in and leads to repentance, we hope to be delivered by God.

In the last verse for today the psalmist calls out to God, saying, “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”. In those moments or days or seasons when life is really swirling around us, we need a firm foundation. We need God to be our rock. Because life keeps happening, we will turn to God over and over to be our rock. We join the psalmist in seeking a steadfast God to whom we can always go.

As our section for today closes there is an admission that we too must make. The psalmist knows that God alone can save him. There is a dependence upon God that comes through faith. May we too know this need for God.

Prayer: Lord God, in the trials and sufferings of this life, you are my only hope. Be with me day by day and hour by hour, my rock and my refuge. Amen.