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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Prepared

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 44: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Returning to these words of Jesus in Matthew 24, we again hear the call to be prepared. Jesus implies that being prepared involves living faithfully. Noah is the first example. Against all reason he built an ark, trusting fully in God’s direction. Jesus follows this with another example. In verses 40-41 he speaks of two men and then two women. Both are engaged in everyday life. In both cases, one will be taken to heaven and one will be left behind. We can only assume that one had lived faithfully and one had not.

Throughout the gospels Jesus is clear that we do not live faithfully just to get into heaven. We live out our faith here to make the world better, to make a positive difference, to do God’s will here as it is in heaven. So what if we read verses 42-44 in this light too? In the next chapter in Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats. In this passage Jesus says, “whenever you did this for one of the least of these” then we’re doing it for Jesus. What if each opportunity to feed or clothe or visit or… is an opportunity to look into the face of Jesus?

With that in mind, re-read verse 44: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Maybe he will come in the one you meet this afternoon as you’re walking downtown. Maybe she will come in the morning as someone new comes to church. May we be prepared to recognize Jesus always.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see better. Lead me to love wider. Guide me to know you and to recognize you more regularly. Amen.


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Focus Shift

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 42: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.”

Photo credit: Javardh

In today’s and tomorrow’s text from Matthew 24 Jesus is telling us to always be prepared for his return. It is hard to always be prepared for something – especially if we don’t know when or where or how that moment will come. A social studies test on Tuesday during second period? Sure – I’ll study Monday night and Tuesday morning. A physical fitness test for my next rank on December 11? Sure – I’ll start jogging and doing sit-ups this Monday. Jesus is coming back in January or in 23 years or in 5 more generations or… Harder to always be prepared.

Jesus warns us against one of my biggest struggles – being busy. Using the people of Noah’s day as an example, Jesus says they were all just going about life. All were too busy to really take pause at this man building a giant boat. How often I can get so busy that I miss signs and opportunities to serve others or to minister to another. Maybe you’re not like me, but I have lots of woulda, coulda, shoulda moments.

In verses 42 Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.” Jesus is calling us to always pay attention, to always be ready, to always notice, to always step into the opportunity. Put another way, he is calling us to be less self-focused, to be more selfless. My self-imposed busyness is just that – a choice. Maybe yours is too. Instead, may we shift focus to others, so that we can love, care for, comfort, encourage, uplift, strengthen… all that God brings before us each day.

Prayer: Lord God, peel my time and focus away from me and turn it outward, to those whom you bring into my life each day. Open my eyes and heart to these. Amen.


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Let Us Worship!

Reading: Psalm 122

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

Psalm 122 is a song of ascent. It is one of many that are about going up to the temple to worship. The songs of ascent were often sung on the journey to God’s house. Today folks listen to and sing along to Christian music on their way to church to prepare themselves for worship.

In the opening verse David rejoices as others invite him to join them for worship. These friends say, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” In essence they say to David, ‘Come along, friend, let’s go to church!!’ There is a joy and a mood of celebration in the invitation and in the thought of worshipping God. There is also anticipation – feet are standing at the gate. They are on the threshold, looking in, imagining what worship will be like this day. I hope these are your emotions too as you head to church each week!

Yet I also hope for more. The sanctuary is not the only place that we can meet God. And I hope that it doesn’t happen just once a week! God is ever present and always active in our lives and in the world. As we begin each day may we do so with the same joy and anticipation. May we do so each day with a feeling of celebration, excited about what the Lord will do today. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, it is a joy to enter your house, to draw close to you in worship. Your glory and presence fill the space and our hearts as we praise your holy name. Yet I long for more. So fill me with your spirit each day – many times each day in fact. Over and over may I experience your glory. In me and through me may your light shine. Amen.


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Go, Prepare the Way

Reading: Luke 1:76-79

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

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

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

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

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

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


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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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Love as I Have…

Reading: John 21:9-14

Verse 12: “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.”

As we continue in John 21 today the disciples get to shore and they see a fire burning. On the fire are some fish and beside it is some bread. In verse 12 we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” Although uncommon to you and me, fish and bread were staples of the diet at this time. To them, this would be a “normal” breakfast – one they’d probably shared before.

In this scene, Jesus continues to love his disciples. He prepares and invites them to share in a meal with him. In the next verse we see that Jesus picks up the bread and gives it to them and that he did the same with the fish. The risen Christ continues to model the service and hospitality and humility that he modeled during his earthly life. It is in these actions that the disciples know it is Jesus. It is one more way of demonstrating “love one another as I have loved you.”

We too are called to follow this example. With our friends and family, with our neighbors and with strangers, we too are to practice service, hospitality, and humility. Jesus offered a simple meal to his friends. Certainly we can do this for others. If course there are other options – bring a plate of cookies or a loaf of homemade bread to the new neighbor or family, mow someone’s lawn, shovel someone’s driveway, offer a ride to an appointment or to the store, have someone over for coffee… There are many ways to practice loving and caring for others.

If the risen Savior of the world can make the effort to cook and share a meal, we certainly can do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, show me how and when to practice loving service and genuine hospitality today. In doing so may another experience your love. Amen.


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Prepared

Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8

Verse 8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'”

Photo credit: Michal Matlon

Today we begin to look at Isaiah’s call story in chapter 6. But before we do, a quick overview of chapters 1-5. These chapters contain a vision from God concerning Judah and Jerusalem. These chapters speak of a rebellious nation and the judgment to come. They speak of the day of the Lord that is also coming and of the branch of the Lord that will be “beautiful and glorious,” that will “wash away the filth”. These chapters are part of and lead up to the text we read today.

As chapter 6 begins, Isaiah is in God’s presence. Seraphs fly and worship God, declaring, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty…” Doorposts and thresholds shake; the space is filled with smoke. Isaiah shrinks back in this setting, realizing that he is a “man of unclean lips”. He recognizes that he is a sinner in the presence of the holy. What an amazing presence that must’ve been. God extends mercy. A seraph takes a coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips, declaring him forgiven and cleansed from his sin.

Prepared in this way, Isaiah hears the Lord ask, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” His response comes quickly: “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah realizes that the Lord is calling him specifically. He has been readied – both by his experiences in the proceeding chapters and by the cleansing – and he responds accordingly. As we consider this passage, we are invited to reflect on our own call story. I ask: When have you been called? And what had God done to prepare you for that call?

God remains present and active in our world and in our lives. As God leads and guides us there are many things that help us grow in our faith, many things that prepare us for the next step. Whatever the call of God currently resounding in our hearts, God has prepared us too to respond. Like Isaiah, may we faithfully say to God, “Here am I. Send me!”

Prayer: Lord God, as you draw me into ministry, instill a holy confidence in me. By the power of the Holy Spirit remind me of how you’ve readied me. Use me, O God. Send me out, O Lord. Amen.


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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.