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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Rescued into the Kingdom

Reading: Colossians 1:10-14

Verse 13: “For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”

Paul opens the letter to the Colossians with thanksgiving and prayer. He is thankful for their faith and love, which are bearing fruit and are growing. In today’s passage Paul offers prayers for these believers. In verses 10 and 11 he prays for them to “live a life worthy of the Lord… to bear fruit in every good work… to grow in knowledge of God… to be strengthened” so that they have “great endurance and patience.” What an awesome prayer! It sums up really well the aim of the Christian life. It is a prayer that we can pray daily for our own brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul upholds a life of faith that is active and engaged. He calls us to a life modeled after Christ, one that shines the light and love of Jesus into the darkness of the world. And Paul prays for strength. The life of faith is not easy. It comes with some challenges and times of difficulty. The darkness often rejects the light. Strength is needed for those times that require endurance and patience. To suffer quietly and without retaliation – this requires great strength, patience, and endurance.

Beginning in verse 12 Paul “joyfully” gives thanks. Because of their faithful living, the Colossian church has “qualified” to “share in the inheritance of the saints of the kingdom of light.” Their faith has led to adoption into the family of God. In verse 13 we read about what this means: “For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” These truths are ours as well. Rescued from our sins, we have been redeemed. Rescued from the darkness of this world, we now live as children of the light. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, empower me to live as light and love today and every day. May my life exude the joy of redemption and salvation. May the strength I find through the faith I have in you be a witness to a world living in pain and darkness. May my joy be contagious and infectious, Lord. Amen.


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A Willing Heart

Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25

Verse 24: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.”

Returning today to the vision of the new heaven and new earth found in Isaiah 65, let us consider the role that God has for us to play in this restoration and redemption that God has planned. We read that in that day there will be no more weeping or crying. People will be safe and secure and cared for. “They will be a people blessed by the Lord.” That about says it all. What a beautiful vision we get from these words of the prophet!

While those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior long for this day and are promised an inheritance in this new heaven and earth, Jesus’ call to us in not to simply wait passively for the day to arrive. Living as a disciple, our hearts should be challenged by all of the pain and brokenness that awaits redemption and restoration. The Holy Spirit challenges our heart not just to be empathetic and maybe even generous towards those living in the brokenness of this world. The Holy Spirit challenges us to be builders of the blessed kingdom here and now, to bring this vision of a new heaven and earth to our present reality.

Jesus calls us out into the places and lives that are experiencing weeping and crying and to those that are unsafe, insecure, and without the basic necessities. This often feels like a daunting task. We question where to begin or how we’ll make a difference. The prophet has a word for us too: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” God is just looking for a willing heart. As we say ‘yes,’ the Holy Spirit will lead.

Prayer: Lord God, while I long for the day when all evil and pain and suffering are no more, I also live in a time and place where these abound. I want to say ‘yes’ to your call and to your challenge today. Show me the way, Lord, to be a kingdom builder. Amen.


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Building

Reading: Haggai 2:1-9

Verse 3: “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?”

In the story of God’s people, some have returned from exile. Under Ezra and Nehemiah the remnant has rebuilt the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Through the prophet Haggai word comes to begin to rebuild the temple that was also destroyed by the Babylonians.

Have you seen pictures or visited any of the grand cathedrals in Europe? Many of these ornate, beautiful, and towering feats took hundreds and hundreds of years to build. And have you ever seen or visited a Puritan or Quaker meeting house? It’s a simple structure with a pitched roof and small steeple. Basic wooden pews fill the sanctuary. When God through Haggai asks, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?” this is the type of contrast that God is drawing. Soaring cathedral versus simple meeting house, old temple versus the new temple.

But the deeper point in not really about the building. Like the Jews we too can get caught up in that. In verses 4 and 5 God gets to what really matters. Here God says, “Be strong all you people of the land and work. For I am with you… my Spirit remains strong among you. Do not fear.” Enemies and critics all around them, a less than temple taking shape, and God basically says, ‘Don’t worry about all that outside stuff. I am with you. Do not be afraid. The building doesn’t matter. All that noise swirling around outside doesn’t matter. Lean into me, lean into the work I have given you. Trust in me.’

This message is translated to our lives and times by Jesus. We are not tasked with building a physical thing but are tasked with building the kingdom of God. Jesus generally describes our task this way: ‘Go out into the world and make disciples of all peoples. Go and help fill all of those human houses with the glory of God.’ Yes, God is still with us. So may we go forth to build the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Lord God, may my time in your word and in the building equip and encourage me to go out into all the world, seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of this world. Amen.


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Faithfulness

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:16-18

Verse 17: “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed.”

Photo credit: Jean Wimnerlin

As we join Paul again today in 2nd Timothy 4, this section begins with a story of abandonment. Much as it was with Jesus when he stood before Pilate, no one is there to support Paul. In the verses between yesterday’s and today’s passages, Paul comments on those who have abandoned him and he asks Timothy to come visit. Paul, like all of us, values company and support in difficult times. Graciously, Paul asks that the fear that held them away not be held against them.

In the next verse, Paul boldly identifies who was present, who strengthened and supported him as he stood before the emperor. In verse 17 we read, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed.” Paul felt Jesus right there by his side. He drew on a strength that was not his own. Now, standing before the emperor – one who was well known for his violent responses to any and all who opposed him – Paul could have quietly offered “yes sir” and “no sir” responses. Not Paul. We read that he fully proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ right then and there. And instead of being whisked away for a quick and sudden death, he was “rescued from the lion’s mouth.” Paul survived to preach another sermon, to live another day.

This boosts Paul’s faith and his trust in the Lord. This is what allows him to write with confidence that “the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” What a great example of both God’s faithfulness and of Paul’s faith that trusts fully in the Lord! May we strive to live out such trust and faith this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, when I find myself in unfavorable times and places, may my faith not waiver. May I be as bold and courageous as Paul, trusting fully in you and standing surely on my faith. Bring me too through the trials. Amen.


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Ready and Prepared

Reading: Luke 12:35-40

Verse 37: “It will be good for those servants who master finds them watching when he comes.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

Today’s passage reminds me of a saying I heard versions of in scouts and in athletics – always be ready. In scouts it was along the lines of “always be prepared.” Whether heading out on a camping trip or sitting on the sidelines during a game, one must be focused and paying attention. One must be prepared to engage right away when our name is called. Coaches called that “keeping your head in the game.” If one wasn’t ready and prepared, then someone else would step into our place.

In today’s passage Jesus invites the disciples to always be ready for when the “Son of Man” comes. The parable speaks of servants who are at home, waiting for their master to return. In verse 37 Jesus declares, “It will be good for those servants who master finds them watching when he comes.” The master will be pleased if we are ready and prepared when he comes. At the point of seeing the clouds roll away at the trumpets’ blasts it will be too late to start preparing.

For those found watching and ready, the master will become the servant. This brings to mind images from the Last Supper, where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet as an example of humble service. It also guides us in how to wait for Jesus’ return. We are to be prepared by being in active service to others. This readies us for the inbreaking of Christ’s reign. If we live out his love here and now, building the kingdom here on earth, humbling serving others, we will be watching and ready when he returns. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, help me this day to be a servant. Open my eyes to see places and ways to serve others. Guide my hands and feet to step into those opportunities. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Called

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-20

Verses 16-17: “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!”

Photo credit: Sophie Walker

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God calls out the people of Judah. In verse 10 God refers to the leaders of Judah as “rulers of Sodom” and to the people as “people of Gomorrah.” These were 2 evil-filled cities that God rained down fire and sulphur upon, destroying them completely. When God’s people thought of depravity and greed, these 2 cities would come to mind. To be compared to Sodom and Gomorrah – things must’ve been pretty bad in Judah.

In verse 11 we see that the people are still bringing sacrifices to the altar of God. But God is not pleased by them. These rote rituals are simply a “trampling of my courts.” This creates a vision of them rushing in, getting the deed done quickly, and rushing back out. God decries, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” Their hearts are far from God; their “hands are full of blood.”

God says to the children, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!” Stop sinning. Learn once again to do good in the world. We see God’s suggestions for doing good in verse 17: seek justice, encourage those who are oppressed, defend the orphans, stand with the widows. These words call out to us today as well. We live in a hurting and broken world. Our question is this: where is God calling us to do good?

Each of us has been called to be a part of the healing of the world. As followers of Christ we are charged with making disciples and with transforming the world. These two go hand in hand. As we seek to partner with God, working to bring about a more just and loving world, we are striving to build the kingdom of God here “on earth as it is in heaven.” May these words not just be a rote ritual that we say each Sunday morning.

Where is God calling you? Where can you be a part of healing this hurting and broken world? Through the power of the Holy Spirit may God use each of us today, according to God’s will.

Prayer: Lord God, where does the world’s brokenness meet my passions? Where does the hurting meet my hope? Where do you need me today? O God, lead me to serve you and your children. Use me as you will today. Amen.


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Forward in Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11:8-16

Verse 13: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”

In today’s portion of Hebrews 11 we focus in on Abraham and Sarah. In faith Abraham left family and home behind to go where God would lead. He did not know where, yet he went anyway. What faith! Later, through faith Abraham and Sarah had a baby – even though well, well past the ages of having children. Stepping out in faith and trusting God at every level, Sarah and Abraham became parents of the nation of Israel.

Others have taken steps of faith. Many are in the Biblical record – even in Hebrews 11: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab… This has continued over the years too. Our nation’s founders left all behind to find a place where they could follow God as they desired. Many generations later, millions migrated north, seeking to be free of segregation and prejudice, desiring a better future for their families. A century later equality and freedom were fought for through peaceful demonstration fueled by a trust and faith in God. Countless others have stepped forward in faith, working to build the beloved kingdom here on earth.

Each builder was much like Abraham – unsure but trusting, fearful yet assured. In verse 13 we read, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” They walked in faith, eye on the prize. They walked forward in faith, knowing that God is faithful and good. Many passed without realizing or experiencing that for which they had begun the journey. They trusted in God to see it through. As we seek to continue building the beloved kingdom, may we too step forward in faith, trusting in God’s good plans.

Prayer: Lord God, call me where you will. Grant me the courage to step forward in faith. I know that you are good and loving. Guide me to go and do and speak as you desire. Amen.


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Ask, Seek, Knock

Reading: Luke 11:5-13

Verse 9: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Today’s second portion of this week’s passage from Luke 11 begins with an illustration. A man has an unexpected guest. He has no bread so he goes to a neighbor, asking for bread. At first he is denied – “I can’t get up and give you anything” – but the neighbor relents because the friend at the door was so persistent. He was bold in his asking.

Continuing on, Jesus says, “So I say to you, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.‘” Jesus is encouraging us to be bold and persistent. Begin with prayer. Ask God. Tell God the desires of your heart and the needs of your life. Ask God where you can be used today. Then turn to scripture. Seek encouragement if that’s what is needed. Maybe it’s assurance or direction or guidance that you need. They’re all in God’s word. Seek holy input. Lastly, take action. Knock on a door, send a note or a text, serve at a local organization, mow a neighbor’s lawn. Allow the asking and seeking to guide your doing. Be bold and live out what you’ve prayer for and found scriptural support for. Be persistent and trust in God. God is faithful.

This pattern applies to this week’s theme of reconciliation. Whether it is the hard work of personal transformation (reconciling oneself to God) or the challenging work of forgiveness (reconciling ourselves to another or to God) or the difficult work of social reconciliation (fixing or creating new and just systems), we begin with prayer, turn to scripture, and then take action. Rooting and founding our efforts in our relationship with God is essential to building the kingdom here on earth. Day by day, may we work to make it so.

Prayer: Lord God, I ask that you would daily guide my life. As I turn to your word and particularly to Jesus Christ, the living word, show me the way to live and be your light and love in the world. Then put me to doing. Use me as you desire as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Pray (and Live) for the Kingdom to Come

Reading: Luke 11:1-4

Verse 2: “Your kingdom come.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we turn to Luke 11, we see that this week’s theme of reconciliation continues. In the opening 4 verses we read Luke’s version of what has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” (The longer version is found in Matthew 6.) In this prayer example that Jesus gives, forgiveness is a key feature. Jesus teaches the disciples to ask God to forgive their sins “for we also forgive.” There is an indication that we are to forgive others if we desire for God to forgive us.

The art of forgiveness can be tricky. Sometimes, usually most often, our apology is sincere and earnest and the one we hurt or offended accepts it and our relationship enters the reconciliation phase. But once in a while our apology is rejected. Perhaps the hurt was too deep to forgive. Perhaps there are other factors, such as past history with us or past experiences outside of our relationship. Some of the time the other person needs more time and space to process the situation. It is hard when reconciliation does not come. Yet we cannot force it. We must offer grace nonetheless. This is something God alone supplies.

In verse 2, after acknowledging that God’s name is holy, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come.” At the point of Jesus’ time on earth the world had already become much less than God intended it to be. So, after the salutation, Jesus first instructs the disciples to pray for the kingdom of God to come. When we pray this we are asking that love and justice, grace and mercy, compassion and forgiveness, generosity and reconciliation be the new norms in our world. Looking at our world today, what a radical prayer this is. Yet it is so needed. So as Christ followers may these three words be both our intent and our resulting action as we pray and then live out these words. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, things roll on as they are, day by day. Same old, same old. Until change is made, sometimes forced. May I be used today as a part of breaking your kingdom into this world. Amen.