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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Rejoice with Me!

Reading: Luke 15:1-10

Verse 9: “And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my list coin'”.

Today we return to the parables of the lost sheep and coin recorded in Luke 15. In both stories someone goes to great lengths to find that which was lost. These great efforts are given because the lost must be found. A great joy is shared when the lost are found and there is also a celebration in heaven over the one that is found. These two parables and the one that follows in Luke 15 are beautiful illustrations of how God seeks, searched, woos, and finds the lost, finishing it all off with a grand celebration.

Once upon a time there was such a party in heaven for you and for me. On the day that we committed to die to self, to repent of our sins, and to follow Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives, all of heaven celebrated extravagantly. The funny thing, though, is that we don’t get found just once. We wander over and over. We get lost in our sin again and again. God keeps seeking, searching, wooing… Confession and repentance are constant and ongoing. We are flawed creatures. Yet every time a sinner repents, a celebration is raised in heaven. Fire up the band!

These two parables and the awesome image of joyous celebration were told in response to some grumbling about who Jesus was associating with. Where do we fit in the story? Are we the grumbler or are we the joyous partier? If we tend to stay in the perimeter, judging or avoiding those who are ‘lost,’ then we are the Pharisees… If we are willing and seek to get our hands dirty, so to speak, to engage the sinners, wanderers, and others who are lost, then we experience the joy and celebrations that Jesus speaks of today. The joy and the celebrations are here and now and are one day in heaven when Jesus says to us, “Rejoice with me!”

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be one who engages all with a no-matter-what love. All are creations of your mighty hand. All are beloved fully by your gigantic love. Help me to mirror this so that everyone I meet will hear the invitation that you give to all. Amen.


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Like Clay in the Hand

Reading: Jeremiah 18:5-11

Verse 6: “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”

As we rejoin Jeremiah at the potter’s house God speaks to him. God begins with a question: “Can I not do to you as the potter does?” Speaking to or about the nation of Israel, God lays claim to shaping and forming as God pleases. Continuing on in the passage we see that how the nation is shaped and forms depends on the nation’s choices. Do they choose to live for good or for evil? God’s heart is set on giving good things to the children of God. But if the people refuse to repent of their evil ways, then God will “reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” Jeremiah has been sent by God to try and influence the peoples’ choices. God is using him to help them see their need for repentance and to realize that they need to turn back to God. This is what Jeremiah calls for in verse 11: turn and reform your actions, each of you!

Here we see how the collective is also personal. Every person matters. The same is true today. Each of us – you and me – are part of the faith community. Yes, as a whole we are called to do good and to follow God’s ways. Collectively we see this in the missions and other outreaches of the church. These works of mercy do not happen, though, without individuals with compassion for these areas of need. Just a few people, for example, with a heart for a local school can shape the church’s heart towards that school. Each of us – you and me – must have hearts of love, bent outwards toward the world.

God desires to place hands upon our hearts. God says to you and to me, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.” God has a vision and a plan for our lives, a purpose for our faith. Like Israel, we have a choice. May we trust the Lord and allow God to shape and form our hearts and lives as God desires.

Prayer: Lord God, mold me and make me, just as you will. Shape me and form me, to do your will. Lead me and guide me, step by step. May your desires become more and more the desires of my heart. Amen.


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Only Then

Reading: Psalm 80:1-2 and 8-19

Verse 2: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Psalm 80 is a plea to God. The psalmist observes an invasion and the sure defeat of a close neighbor. The wave sweeping across the known world is now knocking on Judah’s doorstep. Judah – the two southern tribes – have watched with horror as Israel – the ten northern tribes – have been destroyed by the mighty Assyrians. This reality is the source of Asaph’s plea: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Turning to verse 8, the psalmist reminds God of their history together. God brought them out of Egypt. God cleared the nations and the ground, providing the Promised Land for the Israelites. God protected them and they prospered – growing from the mighty river to the great sea. I’m not sure, though, who Asaph is trying to remind more here: God or Judah? Remember all that God has done for us! Or… God, remember all you’ve done for Judah.

At times we can play this game. At least I do. When difficulty or trial loons, I’ve reminded God of all that God’s done, thinking maybe God will intervene on my behalf. Yet sometimes I need to walk the valley. Sometimes God has some pruning to do. And that begins with surrender.

Judah looks at what has befallen Israel and hopes to avoid a similar fate. Asaph asks God, “Why have you…?” He then quickly shifts to bartering. Verse 17 is the “if you will, God” and verse 18 is the “then we will” parts. This too is familiar ground, isn’t it?

The trouble for Judah is, I believe, they have it backwards. Just as with the plea in verse 2, they expect God to just act. But we must be the first to be faithful, often confessing and repenting our sins, seeking to walk in a right relationship with God. Only then will God hear our prayers.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me in a faithful walk with you day by day. Lead me to always look within and then to root out what I do and say and think that separates me from you. Strengthen me to prepare my heart and soul so that I can stand before you in prayer. Thank you, O Lord. Amen.


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Water of Life

Reading: Revelation 22:1-5

Verse 1: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

Our Revelation passage begins when the water, the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal.” Just as it is today, in Biblical times water was essential to life. Without water, life is not possible for humanity, plants, and animals. In John’s vision, the river is the water of life and it is pure and crystal clear. This reflects God’s purity. The water is flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” This reflects the abundance of God’s love.

Images and connections to water are tied to many aspects of God. In the beginning God harnessed the waters to create a world and throughout the Bible God gives water to the people or withholds water when repentance is needed. God parts the water to rescue God’s people and floods the earth when redemption was beyond humanity. Jesus himself was the “living water” and was immersed in the waters of baptism, initiating the means by which we are brought into the faith community. And the Holy Spirit is poured out upon all who believe, flowing into and filling every nook and cranny of our heart with Jesus Christ’s living presence.

The water of life comes to us by God’s grace. It is a free gift that sustains us and cleanses us. This water is life-giving. This day may we share the gift with others.

Prayer: Lord God, may the Holy Spirit within overflow from my heart today, offering another a taste of the living water. May it be so. Amen.


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Welcome, Grace

Reading: 1st Corinthians 10:1-13

Verse 11: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”

Today we return to 1st Corinthians 10. Earlier this week we reviewed the sins of the Israelites during the exodus and realized that the sins of idolatry and sexual immortality and the sins of testing and grumbling against God remain with us today. Even though many of us have common roots of faith, just as the Israelites did, we too struggle with sin in our lives. Concerning the Israelites, in verse 5 we read, “God was not pleased with them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” Today, ongoing sin continues to have consequences in our lives and in the world.

The difference for Paul’s audience and for all who call on Jesus as Lord can be found in verse 11. In the last part of this verse Paul identifies believers as those “on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” The word become flesh is the one who has come. Jesus Christ, the salvation of the world, came to change the pattern. Instead of the endless repetition of the sin-confess-sacrifice cycle, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross began the sin-confess-repent-renew cycle. Sacrificing an animal made the Israelites feel better for a time but it did nothing to make them new again, to make them more like God. Grace entered the old cycle and invited us to be made new again each time we repented of our sin, drawing us closer and closer to the holy one. Grace washed away the guilt and shame that kept people stuck in the old cycle and opened the way for a holier way of living. We emerge from times of sin and struggle as more than we were before. God’s faithful, unconditional love brings us closer and closer each time, shaping and refining us to be more and more like Christ, our example. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for Jesus Christ and the gift of grace. Even though I am a sinner, I am saved by grace. Your awesome love continues to work in me, bringing me closer and closer to what and who you created me to be. Thanks be to God! Amen.


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A Difficult Road

Readings: Luke 13:1-5 and 1st Peter 3:8-17

Verse 8: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

In the first half of this week’s passage from Luke 13, Jesus is presented with two scenarios, both with the same theme. In these scenarios people suffer a great tragedy. Those present ask Jesus if those who died suffered because they were “worse sinners”. In other words, did God single them out because of their sin? Jesus’ short and emphatic answer is “No!” Turning the conversation back to those present, Jesus twice says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Yes, we’ll all die one day. God does not go out of God’s way to punish us here for our sins. But ultimately, we will perish and spend eternity outside of God’s glory if we choose to live in sin.

These concepts of suffering and living faithfully are continues in our 1st Peter 3 passage. Our passage begins with these words: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” Living faithfully involves getting along, being understanding and loving and caring, practicing humility. Jesus modeled this way of living. Peter also encourages us to not repay evil with evil but instead to be a blessing even to those who cause suffering in our lives. Jesus also modeled this way of living. Going further, Peter invites us to be willing to suffer for our faith at times. This idea of being willing to suffer is incongruent with our “feel good”, selfish culture. To do or say something that might bring some actual suffering is greatly avoided.

Yet this is the way of the cross. Jesus asks us to have a willingness to do what he did: to carry a cross, to walk a difficult road. For us, the first step is offered by Peter in verse 15: “in your heart set apart Christ as Lord.” This decision leads us to always choose Jesus’ way over the way of the world. Jesus’ way is primarily the way of love. Loving enough will lead us to times of suffering and sacrifice. This includes having less so that others can have some. This includes standing with those who are experiencing injustice, being a voice for equality, engaging oppressive systems. Each of these difficult roads invite suffering and require sacrifice. When we are willing to repent from the sinful ways of the world, when we are willing to practice compassion and empathy and understanding, when we are willing to carry a cross for the other, then we are our world will be changed. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a willingness and a courage to walk the difficult road. With a heart to suffer for others, send me out into the brokenness of the world. With a holy courage, lead me to those who need voice, to those who need one willing to stand beside them. Amen.


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All People

Reading: Romans 10:8b-13

Verse 10: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

In our passage today Paul is proclaiming that all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior will be saved. That is a bold and sweeping statement. Yet it pales in comparison to the breadth and depth and width of God’s love for us.

Our text for today begins with a recognition that for believers “the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your hearts.” There is a closeness in our relationship with God. The Spirit, God’s presence, is within us, dwelling in us – ever on our hearts and in our minds. Ever at work in the faith of the believer, the Holy Spirit helps us to grow in our faith, deepening the belief in our heart. Part of this growing process is our justification. This is the process of being made right with God. This process requires our mouth to confess and our minds and hearts to commit to repentance. The words spoken by our lips and lived out by our hearts brings God’s forgiveness and saving mercies upon us. This ongoing and often repeated process is part of our daily walk with God. Thanks be to God for this great love.

While we celebrate the love of God that continues to work in us, drawing us more and more into the likeness of Christ, do we freely extend this love to all others? Do we really believe that God loves “that guy” as much as me? Surely God could not love that grumpy neighbor or that mean boss that much. Certainly there is less love for the prostitutes and drug dealers. Yet in verse 12 we read, “there is no difference between Jew and Greek – the same Lord is Lord of all.” Today Paul would write that there is no difference between Christians and non-Christians – God is the God of all. God’s heart yearns to include all people in God’s family. May our hearts yearn for this as well.

Prayer: Lord God, may my words and actions proclaim that your love reaches out to all people. By my words and actions may I reveal that love to all people, drawing them towards your unconditional love. Amen.


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Such a Love

Reading: Psalm 91:2 and 9-16

Verse 14: “Because he [or she] loves me… I will rescue him [or her]; I will protect him [or her].”

Lent has begun! For some, yesterday at an Ash Wednesday service we began by recognizing our mortality and our sinful nature. There was a commitment asked for: to enter into this holy season of Lent intentionally seeking to be made more like Christ. It is a season of preparation for Easter. The work done in Lent is hard work. It asks us to look within, to see ourselves honestly and to confess and repent of those things that limit our relationship with Jesus Christ. Lent can also be a season of investing in our faith. We can read our Bibles or a devotional on a daily basis. We can participate in acts of service. We can fast on a regular basis. Each of these piety practices has the same goal: to make us more like Christ.

Today’s Psalm – #91 – begins with a recognition of God as our shelter, as our refuge, as our fortress. These images paint a picture of a God in whom we can trust. They also remind us that our God is a God who is present and who watches over us. The second half of our passage begins with these words: “If you make the Most High your dwelling…” The key word, of course, is “if.” While God is ever present, God does not force us into a relationship, into being near to God. Just like a parent or grandparent, God is always right there, watching over, ready to respond when a child cries out for help. A child feels able to cry out because they know they are loved. A child trusts that the parent will respond. The parent responds because they love the child. Love is the key to this and any relationship.

In verse 14 we read, “Because he [or she] loves me… I will rescue him [or her]; I will protect him [or her].” God’s love is unconditional. God will love you and me no matter what. But a relationship is a two-way connection. We must love God for it to be a relationship. Within that relationship, God will rescue us. God will protect us. God will lift us up. God will answer and deliver us. God will forgive and redeem us. These are the promises of God. Thanks be to God for such a love as this!

Prayer: Lord God, entering this season of Lent I am reminded of how great your love is for me and for all of your children. Thank you for the love that rescues and protects, lifts and delivers, forgives and saves. Amen.


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Refined and Purified

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

Photo credit: Kim West

Today in Malachi we move forward from the ancient to the present. The process that God described as necessary for the priests and the temple is also necessary for our faith development. John the Baptist began the process as he prepared the way for the one who would call each of us into a personal relationship with the Lord our God. It is through this relationship that we are refined and purified.

In verse three we read, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” No matter how we come to Christ as Lord and Savior – whether through a slow and steady process or in a moment of sudden realization of our need – all who believe come to a moment of decision. At that moment we ask Jesus into our heart, into our lives. We make a commitment to giving Jesus authority over all areas of our lives. We commit our time, energy, resources, talents, finances… to loving God/Jesus and neighbor more than self. Just as a couple joins hands and commits to a lifelong covenant, so too do we in this moment of decision. We commit to love no matter what.

If you are or ever have been married or been in a long-term relationship, you know that some days it is hard to love the other. Our own selfish desires and many other distractions cause us to stumble and to fail to honor our commitment. Here is where the refiner and purifier steps in. Over and over Jesus Christ, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, calls us back to love. Through the process of conviction, confession, repentance, and forgiveness we are refined and purified. Each time through we are remade again, each time a little closer to the image of God within us. For our part we must stay connected to Jesus Christ through worship, study, prayer… We also must remain open to the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit and to the working of God in our lives. If so we will become more and more like those Malachi speaks of: people who offer all of ourselves to God and neighbor in righteousness. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to hearing and knowing your voice. Drive down my pride and ego so that I may see my faults and sins. Elevate my humility so that I gladly accept your loving hand, leading, guiding, correcting, refining, purifying. Moment by moment make me more like you. Amen.