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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Wondrous Love

Reading: Isaiah 12:4-6

Verse 4: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name; make known among the nations what God has done.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

Earlier in the week we read and reflected on the first three verses of this song of praise. We rejoiced in the depths of God’s love for us and we celebrated the fact that we can draw deeply from the well of salvation. Today we delve into our response to the gifts of love and salvation.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name; make known among the nations what God has done.” We are first to be grateful for these wonderful gifts from God. Calling out to God we are to express our thankfulness for a love that is unconditional and unlimited. Next we are to turn the praise outward. Yes, knowing and experiencing God’s love and the salvation we find in Jesus Christ is amazing, but it is not just to better our lives. We are to share this good news with others.

Isaiah encourages us to “sing to the Lord” and to “shout aloud.” In these ways we proclaim the “glorious things” that God has blessed us with. Doing so we can help draw others toward God, encouraging them to claim God’s love and grace for themselves, opening their lives to experience restoration and renewal. As we seek to live a life of praise and thanksgiving, we too will be filled with more and more of God’s love. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, what wondrous love you have for us! It is a love that remains ever when our love waivers. It is a love that washes us clean when we fail you. It is a love that knows no bounds. May I model well this love today so that others can taste and see a bit of that love. Amen.


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From This Place

Reading: Psalm 119:137-144

Verse 142: “Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

This week’s Psalm reading is a small piece of Psalm 119, the longest of all the Psalms. This Psalm is an acrostic – each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet is the anchor to each stanza. Today’s letter is “tsadhe.” The letter forms the shape of a fish hook and is a combination of 3 other letters in the alphabet. Translated it means “righteous person.” That is the focus of today’s passage.

The psalmist begins by first acknowledging God’s righteousness. Both God and God’s laws are “trustworthy” and are “thoroughly tested.” The psalmist loves both God and the law. But not everyone does. In verses 139, 141, and 143 we see that some “ignore your words,” others treat the psalmist as “lowly and despised,” and still others bring “trouble and distress” upon the author. Not everyone is eager to receive God’s word. Sharing it, at times, brings persecution and hardship to our lives. Yet God remains righteous and faithful. Our call continues to be to share the good news with others.

Because of the psalmist’s long walk with God, he or she knows that God is always faithful and righteous. We too must walk with God, slowly and steadily and consistently, to come to this same place of faith and love. The way and will of God must grow to become who we are in body, mind, soul, and strength. There we too will declare, “Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.” It is from this place that we too will seek to teach others of God’s love, faithfulness, and righteousness. May it become so for you and for me as we continue to walk daily with the Lord our God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the journey so far. I beg that you continue to lead and guide my life and my ways, becoming daily more of who and what I am. As you fill my all, may it overflow into others’ lives. Amen.


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In Word and Deed

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:1-5

Verse 2: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”

Photo credit: Ditto Bowo

Pushing on into 2nd Timothy 4 today we hear the charge given to young Timothy: “Preach the word.” While this charge is given within the context of being a leader in the church, it is a charge that goes out to all who follow Jesus. In all churches there is a pastor or a priest and then there are the ministers – all the people of the church. A saying that I love that goes along with this charge is commonly associated with Francis of Assisi and goes something like this: “Preach the gospel always; use words when necessary.” We are all charged with sharing the good news of Jesus Christ – however and whenever and wherever we can.

Paul encourages Timothy to be prepared “in season and out of season.” Another translation says to be prepared when the time is “favorable or unfavorable.” The gist here is to be ready to share the good news always – whether on Sunday morning or Tuesday afternoon, whether with a fellow believer or an atheist, whether at work or at the local grocery store… Always present yourself as one who is ready to live and love well.

The action verbs come next. Live the gospel ready to “correct, rebuke, and encourage.” Be willing to speak the truth to people. It’s not always what they want to hear. It’s still the truth. And encourage, encourage, encourage. Lift others up with our words. Make people feel loved. Don’t tear down. Don’t build walls. And then comes the ‘how’: “with great patience and careful instruction.” Speak with gentleness and kindness. Offer words in love and compassion. Think before you speak or act.

All of this is so important because people today still have what Paul calls “itchy ears.” People want to hear what suits them. So they listen to people that fit their worldly lifestyle and goals. But one after another after another leaves them unsatisfied, empty, still itching. The only scratch that hits that spot, the only thing that fills that hole is Jesus Christ. So preach the word my friend. In word and in deed, ever share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder today. May I ever ‘preach’ the good news. Use me as you will to communicate the gospel to others, in whatever ‘language’ is needed at the time. Amen.


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A Word on the Word

Reading: Psalm 119:97-104

Verse 101: “I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word.”

In this week’s reading from the Psalms, the author is overflowing with joy in the Lord and with confidence in his or her faith. These words are a celebration of God’s word and a declaration that the word of God is better than any human teaching. These words, or at least the ideas driving them, are worthy of emulation. Oh to meditate on God’s word all day long! Oh to gain understanding from the word of God!

The psalmist is, naturally, writing in the first person. These verses are about his or her relationship with God. Yet there are lots of “I” statements in there. It feels like it’s a lot about the psalmist’s efforts and achievements. While we cannot assume anything about the author, we can acknowledge that at times we can get a little too high and mighty with our faith. We can assert that this is really what God is saying in this passage, implying that our interpretation is the only possible correct one. We can pick and choose from scripture to “prove” our point in a discussion or argument. We can too easily forget that the word of God is alive and active and has many applications and interpretations.

Often I have read a verse or passage that I’ve read many times before and thought, ‘How did I miss that last time?’ Other times I’ve re-read something and found different meaning or application. Passages I’ve read and took lightly have hit me like a ton of bricks the next reading. My understanding of God’s word has grown and even changed as I better grasp the scope and overall messages of the Bible. The Bible gives guidance for how to live out our faith (and how not to!) We all have an individual and unique relationship with the Lord. So may we read God’s word with this in mind as we apply these words to our lives and as we share this good news with others.

Prayer: Lord God, may I ever learn and study and grow in you. Yet as my ‘knowledge’ grows, may my love for you and for others far exceed this growth. Day by day mold me more and more into the image of your son, the Christ. Amen.


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Pleasing Sacrifices

Reading: Hebrews 13:15-16

Verse 16: “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Today’s 2 verses in Hebrews 13 call us to dual actions with our mouth and with our hands and feet. First we are to “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.” This involves confessing Jesus as Lord to the world. It is sharing the good news of what Jesus has done for us so that others can see what Jesus can do for them. It is always being God’s light and love in a broken world so that others can find to healing and wholeness that we have found in Jesus Christ. This is the good fruit that comes from confessing our faith with our lips.

We also confess or witness to our faith by our actions. In verses 16 we are reminded, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” We need to be reminded because it can be easy to forget about the world out there. Faith can become this inner relationship we have with Jesus. It can be tempting to stay there in our faith. To do good, to share with others, to engage the outside world – that involves risk, it calls for trust, and it often demands a cost to us. But it also brings our faith down to a practical, applicable place. It puts skin and flesh to our faith. And it often asks us to suffer a bit for Christ and for his beloved brothers and sisters. This is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God.

Each day we are called to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives. Each day we are called to love others with a sacrificial love. No matter who God may place in our path today, may we be a sacrifice that is pleasing to the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to help others to know you more. Whether by word or deed, put me to service in the kingdom. Amen.


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Show and Tell

Reading: Colossians 1:15-23

Verses 19-20: “God was pleased to have all God’s fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to God.”

Photo credit: Shane

God is all-powerful and all-knowing. God can do anything. Literally, anything. God is the designer and creator of all things. God’s love is limitless. God’s mercy and grace are unending. God used people like Abraham and Moses to call and guide and shape the ancient people of faith. God sent people like Elijah and Samuel and Amos to continue to share God’s word with the people.

God created and designed Adam and Eve – the first of billions. Almost right from the start we recognize that we are imperfect and sinful. Try as God might – whether speaking directly to people or speaking through the prophets – our hearing and listening and understanding is not always that good. So God added “show” to “tell.” God took on flesh, transitioning from “the firstborn over all creation” to “the firstborn among the dead.” In between Jesus showed us what God’s love looks like when lived out. Jesus revealed that love is fully lived out in service, sacrifice, humility, and grace. Connecting this example to Jesus’ final sacrifice, Paul writes, “God was pleased to have all God’s fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to God.” God in Christ was pleased to live once again among humanity so that an example could be set for us. And then God in Christ made “peace through his blood” as Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for all sin. What an all-powerful, loving, merciful revelation of the fullness of God!

Paul encountered the risen Christ and was transformed by his love. He spent the rest of his days proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. For those that also call Jesus Lord and Savior, this too is our mission: to show and tell the world about Jesus so that they too can claim “the hope held out in the gospel.” Jesus saves. Through you and me, may the world know this hope.

Prayer: Lord God, what an awesome and wonderful reminder today of the depth and breadth of your love and mercy and grace. You came and lived and died so that we might better understand you and so that we might know the power of your love to save and reconcile. Use me this day to share all of this good news with all I meet. Amen.


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Relational Ministry

Reading: Colossians 1:1-8

Verse 6: “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing.”

Photo credit: Rohit Tandon

As he opens his letter to the Colossians, Paul expresses thanks for the faith and love that they demonstrate. He acknowledges that these things are rooted in their hope for eternal life. This trust in God’s love for them is being revealed in their lives. This action is summed up in verse 6, where Paul writes, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing.” It has been happening in Colosse ever since they first heard the good news of Jesus Christ.

When the good news or gospel is at work in people’s lives, growth and fruit naturally happen. It is true in our lives. When the gospel is transforming us personally, we have experienced growth in our faith and we desire to be used to introduce others to our Jesus. The same was true in Colosse. They were growing deeper in Christ and they were adding others to the faith day by day.

How did this happen in Colosse and how does it happen in our lives? If one looks at the ministry of Jesus one gets a great clue. Much of Jesus’ ministry was done one-on-one or in small groups. His ministry was deeply relational – Jesus connected to people heart to heart. This model continues to be how most people really “hear” the good news and step towards the faith, hope, and love that we profess. As we go through our day today may we seek to connect personally to someone who needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me eyes to see the one who is searching for hope or love or for faith. Open hearts to hear the story of what Jesus has done for me. Open minds to see what Jesus can do in their lives. 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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As Faithful

Reading: Acts 2:1-13

Verse 6: “A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his [or her] own language.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Acts 2 tells the story of God’s word branching out. A small group of Jesus followers are gathered for worship in Jerusalem, a city teeming with people there to celebrate Pentecost or Shavuot, in Judaism. It is a yearly festival to celebrate the first fruits of the wheat harvest. On this day a loud wind draws people from all over the world to the house where the followers were gathered. Upon each follower was the flame of the Holy Spirit – just as Jesus has promised.

As the worldly crowd gathers, the Spirit enables the followers to speak the good news of Jesus Christ in a diverse array of languages. People from all over the known world hear these Galileans speaking in their own native tongues. Many are amazed by this act of God. They know that something extraordinary is happening here. Many listen and are drawn into Jesus.

When have you had a similar experience? Maybe for you it was when the Spirit prompted you to go and offer reconciliation. Maybe for you it was a nudge to go visit a shut-in or someone who was ill. Maybe it was a whisper to engage that stranger. Maybe it was a random thought to pray for someone you know. This same Holy Spirit continues to speak and to empower followers of Jesus Christ to witness to the good news. May we be as faithful as this first Pentecost crowd, drawing others to know our Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, this day is full of opportunities. Use me as you see fit to be a sharer of the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.