pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Others Will Be Drawn

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 76: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”

Photo credit: Shane

Today we continue in Zechariah’s song, turning to the role that John plays. While on duty in the temple Zechariah is visited by the angel Gabriel. The angel tells of John’s birth and of the role he will play. In verse seventeen we read, “He will go before the Lord… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Upon John’s birth Zechariah shares this in his song. In verse 76 we read, “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” John the Baptist will serve faithfully, speaking God’s truths, drawing them back towards God. John preached about the forgiveness of sins and offered a baptism of repentance, a symbolic cleansing to the Jews. John lived a life of service, helping people to prepare their hearts for the time when they would meet Jesus. This too is our call.

In one of the devotionals that I read there is this great line from Linda Furtado: “Part of being people after God’s desires is choosing to serve as the presence others need, stretching ourselves to love in ways that reflect God’s love.” We begin by knowing God’s desires. Primary among them is God’s desire to have a saving relationship with all people. We must them choose to be God’s loving presence to others. Sometimes this is being like John – calling others to a holier life, speaking hard truths. Sometimes this is coming alongside another in their time of need. Often God will call us to stretch ourselves, to get out of our comfort zones. If we are willing, the Holy Spirit will lead us to people, to places, and into situations that stretch us. It is there that we rely more deeply on God’s Holy Spirit presence within us. Once there we are called to love others as God loves us. When we live out our faith in these ways, others will be drawn towards the Savior of the world. Doing so we live into the words of Zechariah: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” Hear these words today, spoken over you by the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, above all you are love. Lead me out beyond myself, having eyes to see needs and a heart to respond. In and through me may others know of your love for them. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Today is Ash Wednesday. This is a great passage to consider as we prepare to journey into the season of Lent. The words of this Psalm are a wake up call to Israel and to all who approach their relationship with God superficially.

The ashes that we will place on our foreheads reminds us of our mortality. Ashes were used for this same purpose in the days of Isaiah. Remembering our mortality reminds us that we are finite, limited, imperfect. Today begins the season that culminates the Saturday before Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the grave. In his resurrection we find our eternal hope. We are invited to walk through Lent as a season of preparation for that day. These forty days are a time of reflection, introspection, refining.

The people of Isaiah’s day were putting ashes on their foreheads, wearing sack cloth, bowing their heads to God. They were exhibiting all the outward signs of fasting. Today we can show up at church and have a cross drawn on our foreheads. We too can go through the motions. In our passage God’s people fasted, yes, but also continued to exploit the marginalized, to strike one another with “evil fists”, and to ignore the injustices and the oppression all around them. Verse four sums up God’s response: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. We cannot come to church and go through the motions of worship or Bible study or youth group and then go out and live as the world lives.

In verses six and seven God shares the kind of fast that is pleasing to him. As fast pleasing to God changes our hearts and leads us to fight injustice, to set the oppressed free, to share food with the hungry, to give shelter to the wanderer, to clothe the naked. In Lent we are called to look within, to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our indulgences. Doing so we will come to have a heart focused on drawing God’s kingdom near.

Verse eight reveals what happens when God’s people turn towards him and become like him: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear”. May it be so.

Prayer: God of the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the needy – lead me to the place of honest confession and sincere repentance. Make me aware of how I contribute to the pain and misery of the world and turn me from my harmful and hurtful ways. Kill in me all that keeps me from fully loving and serving you and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.


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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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The Chance to Witness

Reading: John 1: 6-8

Verse 7: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe”.

The opening verses of John’s gospel are beautiful and introduce Jesus to the readers in a way unlike the other three gospels. So too is the way that John the Baptist is introduced and brought into the story of Jesus. In verse six we hear, “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John”. It is simple and straight forward, but tells the reader all we need to know. In Luke 1 we have a detailed description of the events leading up to and of John’s miraculous birth. Like Mark, John jumps right into the meat of the story. John describes it this way: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe”. This verses contains two pronouns and a reference to “that light” that beg further thought and draw the reader into exploring the text.

The first “he” refers to John the Baptist. As we read last week, John the Baptist came as a “messenger” sent to “prepare the way”. John did so by preaching a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1). “That light” refers back to verses four and five from the powerful opening of John 1. In Jesus we find “life” and John refers to this as “the light of men”, a light that the gospel writer describes as one that “shines in the darkness”. This light that shines in our darkness reveals the sins and struggles within each of us and in our world. This connects to the personal call in Isaiah 40 to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord by making “straight in the wilderness a highway for the Lord”. This involves clearing away the sin and other obstacles that keep us from walking in faith with Jesus Christ.

The “him” refers not to the witness but to the one to whom John the Baptist is witnessing, to Jesus Christ. It is in and on Jesus that we believe. Here John the Baptist is pointing away from himself and on to Jesus Christ. John knew his role, his place in the work of the kingdom of God. Reading on, in verse nine, John points even more directly to Jesus.

John the Baptist was a witness, one sent to testify, just as we are called to be and do. While none of us are likely to be in a street corner or out in a field preaching today (the modern equivalents of John’s place by the Jordan River), we will all have opportunities to witness to our faith and belief in Jesus Christ. When people notice our calm in the storm or our strength in the trial, when others take note of our generosity or of our kindness to all, these are opportunities to do as John did – to point to Jesus. He is the source of our calm, of our strength, of our mercy and grace. When given the chance to witness, may we point to the light of the world, to Jesus Christ our Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, may your light shine in me today. Through Jesus, fill me with a spirit of power. Use that Holy Spirit power to tell the story of what Jesus has done and will do for me and for all who believe. Amen.


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Prepared to Offer Love

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse 4: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name”.

Psalm 100 is such a spirit-lifter! It is all about praising God and rejoicing in God’s goodness and love. The Psalm was written to be sung heading to and in worship. That is what the psalmist means, literally, when he writes, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise”. Enter into the tabernacle, enter into the temple, enter into the sanctuary, enter into the chapel… with thanksgiving and praise. We can all leave “life” behind and enter into that holy space to praise and worship the Lord. It is in that sacred place that we connect to the Holy One. There we are lifted up in spirit and filled with his presence and love. There we are renewed and refreshed. There we are prepared.

The second half of verse four reads, “give thanks to him and praise his name”. Once connected, lifted up, filled, renewed, refreshed, then we are prepared to exit the church to live lives that give thanks to the Lord and that bring praise to his holy name. We do so by living out and pouring out our faith into the world and into the lives of those we encounter. This is the feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty… that we have been reading about in Matthew 25. May we each see and live out the relationship between worship and life, seeking to make Jesus Christ and his love known in all we say and do and think.

Prayer: God of all generations, may my life be a fragrant and pleasing offering to you. May my times of connection ever be times of thanksgiving and praise, filling me to do your will in the world. Amen.


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Live in the Light

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 1-11

Verse 8: “Since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet”.

As the closing chapter to 1st Thessalonians begins, Paul reminds them who they are – and who they are not. Sadly, I still need this reminder too. After almost 35 years as a practicing Christian, at times I still struggle with the darkness. Paul begins by reminding the Thessalonians that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night”. This thought echoes the conclusion of last week’s parable from Matthew 25: be prepared!

In the next few verses Paul contrasts living in the light and living in the dark. For Paul’s audience there was a clear understanding that light is good and dark is evil. Paul first reminds them that they are “sons of light”. Each believer is a child of God, a brother or sister in Christ. He admonishes them not to be like those who are “asleep” but instead to be “alert and self-controlled”. Paul also reminds them that bad things happen at night. This remains largely true today. I recently moved from a small town. In a conversation with a police officer I commented that the town seemed like a safe, nice place. He commented that I should ride along one night. Then I would see a whole other side of the community.

The call to live in the light is a call to devout and holy living. The light exposes all that is evil, sinful, ungodly. At times we are tempted towards the things of the flesh. This is part of being human. If we are striving to live in the light, however, then our faith, our connection to Christ, will help us to deny these temptations. But it is such a fine line that we usually walk. It is easy enough to step into the dark, to give in, to think, “Here, no one will see me”. Paul knows this is a reality, a choice each believer faces. So, in verse eight, he urges them and us to be “self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet”. Let faith and love guard your heart, invite hope to dwell in your mind. With Jesus Christ, faithfully live in the light, shining brightly for all the world to see!

Prayer: Lord God, I hear the call clearly to be a child of the light. It is such a clear call. When I have walked in the light, life has always been better. Yet the dark still calls. The things of this world are attractive and pleasurable. In this battle, I need you! May the Holy Spirit speak loudly and clearly, reminding me that you are my God, my hope, my salvation. May it ever be so! 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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The Lord’s Renown

Reading: Isaiah 55: 10-13

Verse 11: “My word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”.

Isaiah was a prophet that wrote to a nation who was astray from the Lord. Chapter 55 opens with a beautiful invitation from God to his wayward children: “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters”. God is flinging open the doors for his people to return, to come and drink of his mercy and love. Isaiah encourages the people to “seek the Lord while he may be found”. They have the opportunity to turn back to God so that they can experience God’s mercy and free pardon. In today’s passage we hear God speaking through the prophet. In these words we can hear God’s hope for his children.

In verse ten God says that just as the rain and snow that come down from heaven brings life to the earth, so too will “my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”. As Isaiah and others share the word of God, it too will bear fruit. God has prepared Israel’s soil. He has made it into good soil – into soil ready to receive the word. God’s purposes will be accomplished. Israel’s soil has been prepared through the trial and sufferings of defeat and exile. This experience has made them aware of their sins and of their need for God. We too know this experience. Times of pain and loss have driven us to God. Times of sin and suffering from it have driven us to our knees. Times of hardship and testing have driven us to cry out to God. We have all had our soil tilled by the hand of God as a means to ready us to hear his word. It has then filled us. It does not return empty.

In verses twelve and thirteen we see the result of God’s word. People who receive God’s word will “go out in joy” and will be “led forth in peace”. The earth will also rejoice and bring forth good life – the pine tree and myrtle will replace the thorns and briers. It will all be for the Lord’s renown.

As you reflect on your life, how and when has God’s word brought you new life? How did God work within and through you to accomplish his purposes? How did this all bring God the glory and renown? As we ponder these thoughts today, may we seek opportunities to share the story of what God has done.

Prayer: Loving God, each time I thirst, each time I cry out, each time I wander a bit – you are right there. Your Spirit reminds me of your promises, it brings gentle mercies, it leads me to kneel at your throne of grace. May your word dwell richly in me, yielding a crop that brings you the glory and renown that you desire. Amen.


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Trust…

Reading: John 14: 1-7

Verse 1: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me”.

The encouragement to not be troubled (or worried or afraid) is one made often in the Bible. There are many things that can trigger fear to arise in us. In today’s passage the disciples fear what lies ahead. In John’s gospel Jesus has just predicted his death, paused to wash the feet of the disciples, and then predicted the betrayal by Judas and the denial by Peter. All of this must have been so much to take on in such a short time. It is no wonder Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.

On our journey of life we too receive such bombshell news. It can range from a threatening medical diagnosis to the unexpected loss of employment. It can range from the ending of a significant relationship to the unwanted relocation to a new state or country. These and many more life events can suddenly skyrocket our levels of fear and stress and anxiety. In each of these cases we too need to hear Jesus’ voice as he whispers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. Perhaps you need to hear these words today. If so, Jesus wants to speak them to you.

Jesus continues on, telling the disciples and you and me to “trust in God; trust also in me”. The ability to trust comes from the words that Jesus speaks next in verses two through four. Yes, he is physically leaving the disciples. Yes, that is bombshell news. But. But. But he is leaving “to prepare a place for you”. We can each place our name in the phrase: “to prepare a place for John“, “to prepare a place for Sue”, “to prepare a place for ___”. He is doing so with a promise: “I will come back and take you to be with me”. We are not will not ever be left alone. This cuts through our fear. The assurance that Jesus gives calms the disciples’ hearts. It allows them to dial back the fear and doubt and worry. Only then can they hear the rest of Jesus’ words.

As our passage closes, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. No matter what life brings, these words bring hope, they build trust, they fight fear. Each day may we cling to them as we seek to walk in faith with our Jesus. As we do so, know that Jesus walks with us every step of the way. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Living hope, be present to each facing fear today. Assure each first of your presence. Then fill these with your love and peace. Surround us all with your light. In your light there is no darkness. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.


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A Psalm for Today

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

For many of us, just hearing the first verse of Psalm 23 triggers the same response as hearing these words: “Our Father, who art in heaven…”. The words of Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer are deeply embedded in our hearts and minds. This week’s “Disciplines” devotional writer, Don Salier, describes Psalm 23 this way: “We find deep life and faith compressed into these few verses”. We do indeed!

This Psalm of David speaks of the love and care that he enjoyed in his relationship with God. These words are beloved because we too can experience and relate them to our own relationship with God. The opening verse speaks of God’s care and provision, of the guidance and protection we receive. The ideas of green pastures and quiet waters ooze with love and care, with rest and renewal. Keeping us on the “paths of righteousness” requires a LOT of guidance and patience on God’s part. The fact that God does this for all of our lives shouts volumes about the depth of God’s love for you and me. And then verse four! In the worst times of life, God is right there. The valley may literally be death. Or it might be addiction. It might be divorce or the unexpected loss of a job. In these valleys the words of David always ring true: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. God is our ever present help in times of need.

Turning to verse five we remember the table prepared for us in two ways. One is the great feast that awaits us in heaven. The second is the great feast that greets us at the communion table. In both settings our cup will and does overflow with God’s mercy and love. Lastly comes the closer, verse six. Yes, yes, yes! Within our relationship with the Lord, goodness and love are ours. In this life’s days and in all of our days in the life to come, we who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will dwell in the house of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, oh how these words of David fill my heart with joy. Thank you for placing these words upon his heart so that they fill my heart. Thank you for your love. It is amazing and so life-giving. All praise and honor are yours, my God. Amen.