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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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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Witness and Bring Near

Reading: Psalm 65

Verse 4: “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts.”

Psalm 65 is written by David and is a celebration of God’s presence, provision, and blessing to the Israelites. These words are written within the context of the Israelites being God’s “chosen people.” They saw themselves as a people set apart from the world. Many of the laws in the Torah were meant to keep them to themselves lest they become tainted by the pagans around them. When David writes, “Blessed are those you choose,” he is speaking into this context. As the Bible, the story of God’s love for humanity, continues to evolve and grow, we see a widening of the circle. As Christians we believe that God’s love is unending. That means that God chooses everyone. God wants all people to be a part of the family of God. This is perhaps best illustrated in Jesus’ final command: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

The blessings and provision and presence of God that David reflects upon in the Psalm are available to all who worship God. God hears our prayers, forgives our transgressions, performs awesome deeds, gives hope, and enriches the earth abundantly. In these ways and more God seeks to “bring near to live in your courts” all of humanity. This is true for you and for me and for all people. This day, as we live with the Lord, may we too “shout for joy and sing,” bearing witness to our God so that all people may hear the invitation to know the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, use my words and actions today to reveal your love to those who do not know you. Lead and guide me to reflect your love and care to all people, drawing them towards a relationship with you. Amen.


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The Living Presence

Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

Verse 33: “This is the covenant I will make… I will put my law on their minds and write it on their hearts._

Photo credit: Marek Piwnicki

We return to Jeremiah 31 and again begin with “The time is coming…” God is speaking to the future of the chosen people. God is speaking of a time still many generations away – about 600 years away. When the time arrived, God “will make a new covenant.” This covenant will be ushered in with Jesus’ life and will be sealed by his death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ will be soon followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit – God’s method to “put my law on their minds and write it on their hearts.” The indwelling presence of the risen Christ will lead and guide, correct and refine, teach and inspire all who believe to live out God’s new covenant of love.

This new covenant is a radical shift in the relationship between God and humanity. The person of Jesus began the shift as God lived among us. Helping us to see and experience what God’s love looks and feels like when lived out, loving both God and neighbor with all that we are. The law was no longer words on paper. It was flesh and blood and sweat and tears and service and sacrifice. Jesus was up close and personal to all he met. But then the time came for God incarnate to change our relationship with sin and death. Through his sacrificial death Jesus defeated the power of sin, paying the price or atonement for our sin. Through his resurrection Jesus opened the way to eternal life. Both of these victories are ours through a personal relationship with Jesus.

Then God took it a step further. This wasn’t a surprise though. It is spoken of and promised in the Old Testament and Jesus himself spoke if it. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit came and began to dwell in the hearts of all believers. The living presence of the risen Christ took up residence, connecting us intimately to God. What a wonderful gift we have in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ! Thanks be to God for the new covenant!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the life-giving, faith-altering, relationship-building presence of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for making a way to personally know you and to walk daily in your intimate presence. What a gift! Amen.


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Worship God… Today

Reading: Psalm 66:1-12

Verse 12: “We went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”

Photo credit: Eugene Zhyvchik

What is it that gets you through a hard time? What words can or do you sing or listen to when hardship becomes your reality? For the Israelites, Psalm 66 would’ve been a response to these questions. In spite of the current suffering, Psalm 66 would lift their spirits, reminding them of how God was faithful without fail in the past. Again and again God has guided the people through times that have tested their faith. This song would be sung with joy and would bring hope.

Traditionally today would be the day of preparing for the Sabbath, the day of rest and prayer to ready oneself to worship God. Most of us have lost the sacredness of our Saturdays. Most people work 5 (or 6) days a week and today (or tomorrow) is the day to run errands, to get get stuff done around the house… For many, life is so crammed full that even if they make it to church, the to-do list and/or the busy schedule for the rest of the day inhibits slowing down and really connecting to God. Yet even when all of this (or most or some of it) is true, God remains faithful.

Where in your day today do you have time to rest in God’s presence? It might just be 15 minutes. That is ok. Whether walking in the valley, beaming on the mountaintop, or if life is somewhere in the middle – what songs or scriptures draw you into worship and into connection with God? Find a song or scripture or three and listen to or sing or read and pray through them. Worship God. Today. Recall God’s goodness and faithfulness. Think of God’s rescues and redemptions in your life. Sing or say with the psalmist: “We went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance” and worship God today.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me into you, into that sacred place where I can dwell for a bit in your abundance. Cover me in your love, fill me with your grace, wrap me in your healing. Amen.


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Relationships

Reading: 2nd Timothy 1:1-7

Verse 5: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois… and now lives in you also.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Today and tomorrow’s passage from 2nd Timothy 1 is a great example of one of the things I love about the Bible: it is real. It’s not just a story of God’s love and nice miracles that Jesus performed. Yes, it is partly this but there is real life in there too. There is adultery and betrayal and murder. There is sin and falling away. There is denial and dishonesty too. And today we begin a passage that speaks of the hard realities of faith and of the means that God provides to continue walking faithfully through the trials. We’ll delve into the trials tomorrow. Today we’ll look at the means that God provides to get us through the hard things of life.

Paul begins by reminding Timothy of the relationships in his life. He encourages Timothy by telling him that he prays for him. Paul then recalls the closeness of their relationship and the tears that bore evidence of this at their parting. He next lifts Timothy up by saying, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois… and now lives in you also.” His grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice have both poured into Timothy and have helped him to grow in his faith. Paul encourages Timothy to “fan into flame” his faith, this “gift of God.” His mentor Paul and his family have planted and nurtured this gift in Timothy. Who comes to mind for you as we consider these relationships and how they guided Timothy? Who mentored and nurtured your faith?

Paul backs this relationships up with another vital relationship. In verse 7 he reminds Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity.” No, the Holy Spirit is not timid. Quite the opposite. The Spirit is a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. The Holy Spirit, the spirit of Christ living in us, fills us with all we need to walk faithfully in and through the times of trial and suffering. The constant presence of Christ walks with us always. Reflect upon this too. When has the Holy Spirit given you power or love or self-discipline or whatever it was that you needed to get through a difficult thing?

Prayer: Lord God, you fill my life with vital relationships for my walk of faith. Thank you for the people in my life that teach and encourage and support me. Thank you for those who hold me accountable. And thank you for the Holy Spirit, my constant friend and guide. Amen.


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Choose

Reading: Luke 10:38-42

Verse 40: “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”

Photo credit: Robert Bye

At the end of Luke 10 Jesus visits the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Martha, we read, opens her home to Jesus. Her home would become a favorite and regular place to stop on the way in and out of Jerusalem. They would become good friends.

As Jesus and his disciples relax and settle in, Mary joins them as Jesus begins to share with the group. We assume Lazarus was there too. Mary makes the choice to be in Jesus’ presence. Martha does not. In verse 40 we read that “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Sleeping quarters must be made ready, there is a meal to provide – so much to get ready! Martha feels responsible.

We too can feel responsible. There are always deadlines and things that need done. We too can feel really busy. After all, it is what our world expects. Busyness is highly prized in our culture. It’s a sign of success and productivity. So we fill our lives and our schedules, not leaving a free moment. We can easily become like Martha. I’d really like to go to church but I have so much to do. Sure, I’d love to serve on that team, but I don’t think I can free up that one hour a month. Sorry, all 168 hours each week are spoken for.

While things like work and sleep and time with family and friends are all important, even necessary, Mary chose the “better thing.” She was intentional about taking time to be in Jesus’ presence. Jesus acknowledges Martha’s busyness and reminds her that “only one thing is needed” – time with the Lord. Each day may we choose as Mary did.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to keep margin in my life. Guard my heart and mind against busyness. May you be my priority. 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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Present and Steadfast

Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4

Verse 4: “To you I call out; I raise my voice to all humanity.”

Photo credit: Josh Marshall

Wisdom calls out to you and to me and to all people. Wisdom raises her voice. She positions herself at a strategic crossroads, at a place where her presence seems obvious. Here Solomon points out Wisdom’s desire to be known. Yet God’s wisdom is not limited to one street corner or to any specific time. The Spirit is present everywhere, all the time. The Spirit is eternal – here since the beginning of time and to be through the end of this age and on through eternity.

Wisdom continues to call out. You and I, we hear wisdom’s call. But like when we were kids ignoring our Mom or Dad’s call to come home until we heard that certain tone or phrase, we too can try and ignore the voice or the nudge of the Holy Spirit, of God’s wisdom. And like I was when a teen, ignoring Mom or Dad’s advice or counsel, I have had to learn a thing or two the hard way. I can choose my own way, thinking it better than God’s way. Perhaps you too have learned the hard way now and then. Yet even then, wisdom continues to call out, to raise up her voice.

Wisdom does seem to call out louder at times. We often think so, at least. The Holy Spirit’s voice seems loudest when I am at a crossroads in life or when at a crisis moment. Is it louder? Or am I just a bit more willing to listen because I’m more desperate? And when I’m in the valley, I’ve found my ears and heart to be more wide open for something, for someone, for anything that will help. In those times the Spirit is right there, just like it is at all times. The constant presence of the Spirit always calls out with God’s wisdom, always seeks to walk hand in hand with us. May we grow to be as present and steadfast.

Prayer: Lord God, ever-present Spirit, be with me this day. As the day unfolds, pour your wisdom into my heart and mind. May your wisdom and Spirit be reflected in all I say and do and think. Amen.


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Deeper and Deeper

Reading: Proverbs 8:22-31

Verses 30-31: “The Lord brought me forth as the first of God’s works… I was appointed from eternity.”

Drawing from the opening verses of Genesis 1, Solomon writes in today’s passage of wisdom, of God’s Spirit. In verse 22 he writes that wisdom was “the first of God’s works.” This parallels the Genesis account of the time when the world was yet “formless and empty” – it was then that the Spirit came to “hover over the waters.” Solomon notes that wisdom was “appointed from eternity.” Since the very beginning, the Spirit has had a role to play.

Verses 24-29 are a great reminder of the time when God created the world: oceans, mountains, fields, clouds, seas. Wisdom was present for all of this work, for all of this creativity. Then, in verses 30-31, wisdom becomes involved. Here we read, “Then I was the craftsman at God’s side.” At this point in the Genesis story, in verse 26 of Genesis 1, God says, “Let us make mankind in our image.” Wisdom or the Spirit is a co-creator with God. This makes perfect sense since the Holy Spirit is what comes to all believers, taking up residence in our hearts.

As we mature in our faith we grow in spiritual wisdom. The more we read the Bible, the deeper our wisdom grows. The better we become at hearing and following the Holy Spirit, the deeper our wisdom grows. As our faith grows and deepens, we become part of the Spirit’s rejoicing and delighting in mankind. We are becoming more and more of what we were created to be. What great love. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, continue to be present to me, drawing me deeper and deeper into you. Pour out your wisdom as I read and meditate on your word. Attune my ears, mind, and heart more and more to the lead of the Holy Spirit. Day by Day make me more fully yours. Amen.