pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Drawing Near

Photo credit: Soul duvOcean

Reading: Mark 1: 14-15

Verse 15: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”.

Jesus steps into his ministry as the one who prepared the way has been arrested. John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod. John spoke truth against the power of the day and it would cost him his life. Jesus travels to Galilee to begin his ministry. This region to the north was isolated, away from the power structures of the day, home to many in need of the good news. As he begins his ministry Jesus announces, “The time has come”. John had prepared the people for this very moment.

Jesus continues with the message that John had preached. It is one of the constant messages of the entire Bible. The practice of repentance always remains central to the walk of faith. In verse fifteen Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”. In Jesus, God draws near to us. This is what draws us to him, it is what drew the first disciples into following Jesus. In our lives today we have moments when this is especially true. These are the times when we can tangibly feel God’s presence with us. To have any relationship, change is necessary. It is true of our relationship with Jesus. This relationship begins in a place of humility, in the place where we recognize our need for a Savior. Sensing that we are entering a holy space, stepping into the presence of the Messiah, we are naturally led to repentance. Entering that space we feel that we need to be our best. Part of that involves laying aside our imperfections, our sins, our selfishness. Looking within, we see that which separates us from the one we want to draw near to. Repenting of these we draw nearer to the kingdom of God. It is in our moments of closeness to Jesus that we come to belief as we surrender our lives to him. As we continue to draw near we experience grace and mercy and forgiveness as we are made new over and over. We experience freedom from the things of this world as our focus and love shifts toward the eternal. We come to live out the joy and hope and peace that grows from belief and trust in Jesus. We come to see Jesus as the “good news”, as the way, the truth, and the life, as the one who gives us the final victory over sin and death.

This day may we spend time in his very presence, allowing the good news to permeate our very being. May the kingdom of God draw near to you this day!

Prayer: Loving God, you draw near to me in so many ways – in these quiet moments, in the interactions with others, in the ordinary of life. In love you fill me with a peace and hope and joy that nothing in the world can give. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Oh Nineveh

Reading: Jonah 3: 5-10

Verse 8: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”.

Jonah has made his proclamation known. For three days he walked around Nineveh proclaiming the coming destruction. The words of his warning – or the power of God behind them – hit home, leading the people to repentance. “From the greatest to the least” they fasted and put on sack cloth, both signs of repentance. When word got to the king he too was moved to action. The king issued a decree. In addition to calling for these sign of repentance, he also declared, “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”. He hoped that if they changed their evil ways, that maybe in his compassion God might relent. God did have compassion. God did not destroy the great city of Nineveh.

As we consider the application of this passage today, how often are we Nineveh? How many times have we had to repent of our evil ways and our violence? As I consider these questions, I realize that sin is a constant battle in my life. Like the prophet Jonah, the Holy Spirit is ever on duty, proclaiming the coming destruction, calling me away from my sin and into faithful prayer and holy living. The same mercy and grace and love that brings renewal and forgiveness to my life are the ones all people can experience when they “fast” from their sins and “put on sack cloth” as a sign of their humility. This mercy, grace, love, renewal, and forgiveness is something God offers to all people.

Taking another angle, who is your Nineveh? Who is that person or group that most needs God’s transforming power to be at work in their lives? You see, at times we are to be like Jonah too, going to “that” person or to “those” people. We are to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all people, sometimes even with words. We are to bear God’s transforming power into all the world, even to our Ninevehs.

By the power and grace of God, may we be aware both of the times when we need to repent and to turn from our evil ways AND of the times when we are called to proclaim that to those who are walking without the God of mercy and grace. May we each faithfully live out both sides of God’s love.

Prayer: God of grace, humble me and convict me when I am living in sin. Walk me to your throne and lead me to kneel there, in that place of love. Use me today to help others to know that place of love so that they too can know your healing and renewing power. Amen.


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The Light Has Come

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Verse 1: “Arise, shine, for your light has come”.

The chapter that we read from today is entitled “The Glory of Zion” in my Bible. Zion was another name for Israel and for God’s chosen people. In this, the third section of Isaiah, the prophet writes of hope. He writes of hope because the people are in need of hope. The long years in exile have been difficult. The time in a foreign land has challenged their faith. Life feels dark and dreary. The hope that Isaiah wrote about 800 years before Christ are good words for today.

Chapter 59 leads into today’s passage. At the end of this chapter we find these words: “he will come like a pent-up flood… the Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Judah who repent of their sins”. These words, read during the era of Jesus Christ, speak of the Messiah. The love of God revealed in Christ swept through Israel and then was carried out across the known world. City by city were swept into faith in Christ as the disciples and apostles brought the good news to those eager to confess and to be baptized into faith. In today’s reading we began by reading, “Arise, shine, for your light has come”. As we read these words just after Christmas we hear these words speaking of Jesus, of our light, of our redeemer.

This week we also read part of the creation story from Genesis 1. It is awesome to think of the complexity and diversity and organization of a world that God simply spoke into being. Passages like today’s remind me that the Bible is much like creation. Today, for example, we encounter a prophet who lived about 800 years before Jesus writing as if he lived right alongside Jesus. It is but one of hundreds of passages that speak of Jesus and of events that will unfold just as they were foretold. Clearly the Bible is part of God’s grand and detailed plan.

As God’s children, as part of the family and community of faith, these 2,800 year old words speak to us. Verse two continues with these words: “the Lord rises upon you, and his glory appears over you”. Yes, the light has come. It continues to shine. May it shine in you today as the Lord’s glory rests upon you.

Prayer: God of glory, the light that brought creation into being was the light that came through the stable almost 2,000 years ago. The light continues to shine. May the light of Christ shine brightly in the world today. Amen.


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To God Be the Glory

Reading: Romans 16: 25-27

Verse 25: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ…”

The three verses that we read today come at the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman church. These verses are the doxology or blessing given to the church. At the end of a letter we may write “best wishes” or “yours truly” or “until the next time”. Paul’s closing is more of a summary. In just a few verses Paul summarizes what he has said to the church in Rome in a long letter – fourteen typed pages of size 12 font in my Bible.

The people in the church in Rome are believers for two primary reasons. First, they gave heard Paul’s “gospel” – his good news story. For Paul it is the story of how he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and of how his life was radically changed. The “proclamation of Jesus Christ” is that he offers salvation and eternal life to all who believe in him as Lord and Savior. Paul spent much of his life preaching salvation in Jesus Christ and of the peace, hope, joy, love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, contentment… that comes to all who believe. Paul used both his story and Jesus’ story to draw others into the faith he knew and lived so that “all nations might believe and obey”. That was Paul’s mission and focus in life.

You and I have what Paul had – a personal faith story and Jesus’ Christ as our Lord and Savior. We too are called to do what Paul did: to help others to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And we are called for the same reason Paul was called: “to the only wise God be glory forever”. As we seek to witness to our faith, sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others, may we bring God the glory this day and every day!

Prayer: Wise and true God, thank you for your saving grace, your tender mercies, and your inclusion of me in your family. The mystery of faith has changed my life. Help me to share my faith with others, opening the way for the Holy Spirit to change their lives too. Amen.


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Light Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse 3: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair”.

Today’s words from Isaiah burst with hope and the promise of new life. It is easy to relate these words to the time in which we now find ourselves. Just as the Israelites felt powerless and hopeless against the Babylonians and the exile, so too do we feel against the coronavirus and social isolating. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people so needed a light in the darkness. Today, this remains our need as well.

Our passage begins with God empowering Isaiah to bring good news and healing, freedom and release. Neither you or I need to think very long to come up with a lengthy list of folks who desire these things today. We yearn for the “year of the Lord’s favor” in the way the Israelites did. Most of 2020 does not feel like there was very much favor. If not us ourselves, we are surrounded by folks who need comfort in their grief. Each of these needs the blessings of verse three: beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. Today, as in Isaiah’s day, almost all long for these – beauty, gladness, and praise. Yes, we are much like Isaiah’s original audience.

In verse four the empowerment extends to God’s people. It is not just God or Isaiah that have roles to play. Today we fall into this call as well. Isaiah prophesies that the people will help rebuild the ruins and restore the places that were devastated. The people will help renew that which was ruined. The people will not sit idle. Once they are released from their current circumstances, once the light again shines, they will be a part of the year of the Lord’s favor.

We are empowered by the Holy Spirit and we are called by the Lord to be active participants in the sharing of the good news, in caring for the brokenhearted, in bringing freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. We are not to sit idly by in this time of exile and social isolation. We, as people of faith, must bring beauty and gladness and praise to our neighbors and to our communities. The light is coming. May we help prepare those in ashes, mourning, despair, and darkness to receive the light. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, use me as part of your healing work. Guide me to those needing good news, to those needing healing of body, mind, or spirit. May each find freedom through your light and love. Amen.


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Granted

Reading: Philippians 1: 27-30

Verse 29: “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”.

As we did earlier in the week, we again hear the call to “conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel”. For Paul this includes steadfast faith, lived out in unity, sharing the good news. Paul also calls us to trust in God. Trust in God will help combat the fear we feel when others oppose the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul names two signs that indicate that the followers will be saved. In verse 29 he writes, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”.

“Granted” implies something that is given, a gift of sorts. A belief in Christ as Lord and Savior is where our faith begins. Trusting in Jesus as our Lord means that we look to him to guide our lives in the here and now. Through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus does just that. As Savior, it means that we trust Jesus to one day redeem us – to bring us on to our eternal home. As Christians we find assurance and comfort in these aspects of our faith. As Christians we find worth and contentment as well as peace and strength in these two aspects of our faith. Because Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior we live with joy and hope. All of this is granted to us through our relationship with Jesus. It truly is a gift.

Then we come to the “but” in this verse: “but also to suffer for him”. This too is a gift. Jesus called upon us to follow him by taking up our crosses and by dying to self. These acts entail giving up our preferences, our wants, our natural inclination to selfishness. We do so in order to see, to feel, to respond to the needs of the list and the broken and the suffering. In doing so, in coming into connection with and into relationship with those we serve, we draw closer to Christ. When we live love out loud, as Jesus so often did, then we enter into the lostness, brokenness, and suffering of the world. The cost may be physical, it may be emotional, it may be financial, it may be social. There are many ways that the Spirit may lead us to suffer when we place the call of Christ and the needs of others ahead of ourselves. Walking alongside these who suffer, including these in our personal relationships, we might be granted the privilege of sharing the gospel with them. We might be. As we strive to engage the world around us, may we surrender and walk the paths that the Spirit leads us upon. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, use me as you will today. Put me to the tasks that build relationships and build your kingdom. Amen.


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Living Fully in Christ

Reading: Philippians 1: 21-30

Verse 27: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.

As our passage opens today, Paul writes of his inner struggle. He weighs going on to heaven against remaining on earth in service to the Lord. Paul opens with: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Living he continues to share the good news of Jesus Christ. But to die is “gain” – he longs to be in glory. At points in life, particularly later in life, we experience this pull. Paul knows that heaven will be “better by far”. Yet he knows that now, at least, “fruitful labor” lies ahead. God still has work for him to do. While some of us lose this perspective, it still remains true for all believers. God can always use us for his purposes and glory.

Paul does not know if he will see the people of the church in Philippi again. Life is tenuous for Paul. The Jews and, at times, the Romans persecute him. He knows that at any point he could die for his faith. The same is true for all followers of Jesus. This reality is what leads him to say, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” in verse 27. Paul knows that the life of a believer is not always easy. Not only is there persecution and suffering, but there are also the desires of the flesh and the lures of the world. Almost 2,000 years later we live within the same realities.

So what does Paul mean by “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”? Part of the gospel life is what Paul alludes to in the opening verses. Faith in Jesus Christ empowers us with the promise of salvation, of eternal life. It will be “better by far”, to again quote Paul. Like Paul, our current life is lived in the here and now. There are gospel implications for that as well. These are mainly to be like Jesus Christ in our daily living. Doing so, we are generous not only with our time and resources but with our love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, kindness, and compassion as well. It means grieving with the hurting and sorrowful and it means rejoicing with the blessed and cared for. It means welcoming the stranger and fellowshipping with the believers. It is a call to live fully in Christ, all the while knowing that to die is gain.

When we choose to live fully in Christ, we too will have “fruitful labor”. In doing so, others will come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. May we each live fully in Christ, bearing fruit for the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Loving God, consume me. Consume me with your love. Consume me so that all I say and do and think reflects your love. Guide me moment by moment, step by step, to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


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Share the Story

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-5

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord… make known among the nations what he has done”.

Just as today’s Psalm is a method to remember all that God has done for Israel, we too should often recall what the Lord has done for us. The Israelites recounted the stories of God’s love and action and they told them over and over. Each generation and people coming into the faith would know the story of God and faith. In telling the stories they built up one another’s faith and found a deeper connection to God in their own trials and struggles. Our personal experiences of God’s love and action are also important moments in our faith journeys. Such experiences are scattered throughout our lives.

There was the time in my junior year of high school, when we were praying for a friend involved in a horrific car accident, when I felt God’s presence in the church balcony. There was the time about six years ago, when present in the hospital room when a man passed, when I saw a group of lights hovering over us in the corner of the room before his soul flew away. There are other smaller but no less significant moments when God was fully and tangibly present in times of worship, in moments on mission trips, in a prayer room at a Promise Keepers event. Each of these connection points with God built my faith. But they are not just for me. As I recall them and write or talk about them, I am doing what the psalmist is doing. When you remember your God moments and share them with others, you too are building up your faith and the faith of others. We are living into the psalmist’s words: “Give thanks to the Lord… make known among the nations what he has done”.

Many years later Jesus used similar words to give the great commission. Our call, no, our task as followers of Jesus Christ is to share the story. We are commanded to tell the good news of what Jesus Christ has done – both during his ministry and in all the years since – even those that include our lives. As we each consider the wonderful things that God has done, may we each be moved to share our stories of faith. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the moments when faith has been so personal, when you have drawn so close to me that I could feel you. Give me words to share these experiences with others, helping them to become aware of your presence in their lives. Amen.


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God Over All

Reading: Romans 9: 1-5

Verse 5: “From them is traced the human ancestry of Jesus, who is God over all, forever praised”!

As our passage turns to verse five Paul is beginning a shift in his thinking and understanding. It reminds me of a prayer shift I sometimes make. For example, when a loved one or someone I know is battling a health issue, I will pray for healing and wholeness. But sometimes the person does not win their battle with the illness or disease. My prayers shift to petitions for peace, comfort, strength, God’s abiding presence. The shift represents a new understanding in how God can work in their lives and in the lives of their loved ones. Paul is turning a similar corner. He is beginning to understand that opening the gospel to a wider audience is part of God’s plan for the good news of Jesus Christ.

In verse five we get a hint at this shift. In verse five we read, “From them is traced the human ancestry of Jesus, who is God over all, forever praised”! Out of the line of Israel, God became incarnate in the person of Jesus. When Paul acknowledges that God is the God of all, there is an opening of Paul’s thinking. God is not just the God of the chosen people; God is the God of all people. As Romans continues to unfold, this is the direction Paul leans into.

As we consider these words today we must think about the implications for our lives and for how we practice our faith. We can no longer look at this person or that group of people and decide that their soil is too hard or rocky or thorny, to use Jesus’ terminology from Matthew 13. Jesus’ words from the end of the gospel of Matthew are echoing in my head. In 28:19 we hear the charge to “make disciples of all nations”. Paul is beginning to work into a fuller understanding of what Jesus meant with these words. May we seek to do so as well.

Prayer: Loving God, as time has unfolded, your love has grown into more and more people’s hearts. Christ and then the disciples and apostles began the journey to take faith to “the ends of the earth”. Each day may I strive to be a part of that team – even if just in my neighborhood or in this valley. May all I do and say and think draw people to you. Amen.


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The Path

Reading: Matthew 13: 1-9 and 18-23

Verses 3 and 4: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed…”

Today’s parable is one of my favorites. The parable of the sower is one of my favorites because of the underlying message and directive. On a surface, practical level, it is the story of a farmer who probably wasn’t very successful – at least be farming standards. No farmer worth his weight in seeds would plant seeds in shallow soil or amongst rocks, nevermind on the path. But this is not really a story about how to be a good farmer.

On the figurative level the parable is about the types of souls who hear the message of faith. On this level we all know people with hard hearts, people who “try out” faith but soon return to life as normal, and people who really want to be faithful followers but struggle with the cares and lures of the world. We also know people who live and share a solid faith, leading others to become believers. Some of us have even been the farmer at times, trying to share our faith with others. When doing so we have encountered all of these types of soil. In this sense, the parable is a good summary of the challenges of evangelism and of the reality of the difficulty of a faithful walk with Jesus Christ. For these reasons it is a good parable – lots of application and understanding.

I love the parable, though, for what is implied, especially in the opening lines: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed…” For me, the key word is “scatter”. To me there is a willy-nilly wildness to this method of planting seeds of faith that God prefers. To me, this speaks of the vastness and inclusiveness of God’s love. The parable’s underlying message and directive are to share God’s love and the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone. Hardest of hard hearts all the way to the most eager recipient you’ve ever met. And everyone in between.

This is how Jesus operated. He ministered to the adulterer and to the Pharisee, to the tax collector and to the leper, to the demon-possessed and to the children, to the widow and to the masses… You name the type of soul, Jesus met them where they were at, entered into relationship with them, walked with them, ministered to them. This too is our mission. No, it is not easy. The road is hard and will often place us in uncomfortable situations and places. Such is the path of following Jesus, working to make disciples of all people and nations. May we walk the path well.

Prayer: Lord God, I do love this story but it is also very challenging. It pushes me, it calls me to new people and to new places. Go with me as I seek to follow your Son. Amen.