pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Light Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse 3: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair”.

Today’s words from Isaiah burst with hope and the promise of new life. It is easy to relate these words to the time in which we now find ourselves. Just as the Israelites felt powerless and hopeless against the Babylonians and the exile, so too do we feel against the coronavirus and social isolating. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people so needed a light in the darkness. Today, this remains our need as well.

Our passage begins with God empowering Isaiah to bring good news and healing, freedom and release. Neither you or I need to think very long to come up with a lengthy list of folks who desire these things today. We yearn for the “year of the Lord’s favor” in the way the Israelites did. Most of 2020 does not feel like there was very much favor. If not us ourselves, we are surrounded by folks who need comfort in their grief. Each of these needs the blessings of verse three: beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. Today, as in Isaiah’s day, almost all long for these – beauty, gladness, and praise. Yes, we are much like Isaiah’s original audience.

In verse four the empowerment extends to God’s people. It is not just God or Isaiah that have roles to play. Today we fall into this call as well. Isaiah prophesies that the people will help rebuild the ruins and restore the places that were devastated. The people will help renew that which was ruined. The people will not sit idle. Once they are released from their current circumstances, once the light again shines, they will be a part of the year of the Lord’s favor.

We are empowered by the Holy Spirit and we are called by the Lord to be active participants in the sharing of the good news, in caring for the brokenhearted, in bringing freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. We are not to sit idly by in this time of exile and social isolation. We, as people of faith, must bring beauty and gladness and praise to our neighbors and to our communities. The light is coming. May we help prepare those in ashes, mourning, despair, and darkness to receive the light. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, use me as part of your healing work. Guide me to those needing good news, to those needing healing of body, mind, or spirit. May each find freedom through your light and love. Amen.


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Gift of the Spirit

Reading: Mark 1: 6-8

Verses 7 and 8: “After me will come one more powerful than I… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”.

John the Baptist chose the wilderness as his ministry setting. He dressed the part, wearing camel hair clothes. He lived a wilderness life, eating locusts and wild honey. In these ways he was about as far from a typical religious leader as he could be. But this was his destiny. John was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth when both were well beyond the children stage of life. In Luke 1 we find the story of the angel visiting Zechariah in the holy of holies, telling him of John’s special role in preparing the way for the coming Messiah.

Large crowds came out to see John, to hear his message, to confess their sins, to be baptized. It would have been easy for John to forget his main task. It would have been easy to get caught up in the crowds and growing number of followers. Maybe that is part of why John did not operate out of the temple. There he might have heard whispers of how great he was, of how much he was doing for God. Or maybe the religious leaders would not have ever even let John in the door. He was wild, after all, ministering outside the religious structures of the day. In this way John was much like his cousin Jesus.

John was like Jesus in another important way. He understood the role he came to play. John preached and baptized, called people to repent of their sins, not to build up a following, but to prepare people to follow Jesus. We see and feel John’s humility and dedication to God in verses seven and eight. Here he says, “After me will come one more powerful than I… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. The one who will baptize with the long awaited Holy Spirit is coming.

After baptizing Jesus, John will become less so that Jesus can step into and live out his role according to God’s plan. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as he emerges from the waters of baptism. For three years, Jesus will play his role, defining what it looks like to love God and neighbor with all that you are. As Jesus’ ministry and time on earth comes to a close, he promises to pass on the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believe. Like many disciples who have come before us, we too have received the gift of the Spirit. This gift allows and empowers us to play our roles, guiding us to be live love and light in the world. May we too play our roles, preparing others to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Loving God, we all have a role to play. We are all called to be ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ. Fill us all with the power of the Holy Spirit, guiding us to ever point to your son, the Savior of the world. Amen.


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Hour by Hour, Day by Day

Reading: Mark 13: 30-37

Verse 34: “He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task”.

As this chapter in Mark about the signs of the end of the age comes to a close, Jesus reminds his disciples and followers that no one knows when he will return. Even Jesus himself does not know when. Therefore he says, “Be on guard! Be alert”! As is often the case when we wait and wait and wait, our focus or attention can lag or fade. If I, for example, were to plan to run a marathon in October 2022, I probably would not start training today. If were planning to enter the next race as soon as I were able to run 26.2 miles, then I would start training today. That is Jesus’ point in this section of Mark 13.

In verse 34 Jesus says, “He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task”. About 2,000 years ago Jesus left this temporary house on earth to spend eternity with his father in heaven. Jesus left us each with a task or a role to play. These are the gifts of the Spirit that we read about yesterday in 1st Corinthians 1. Some are pastors, some are teachers. Some are encouragers, some are prayer warriors. Some are missionaries, some are singers. Some are greeters, some are readers. Some are audio-visual folks, some are cooks and bakers. There are many roles to play in the family of God, in the church. When the owner of this house returns, will he find us sleeping? Or will we be actively living out our faith, serving God and one another, ready to meet him at any moment?

Hour by hour, day by day, life by life, may we be ready to serve the Lord, his church, and his world.

Prayer: Lord of all, help me to always be ready to do your will. As you have gifted me, so may I serve. Put me to doing, put me to all things, put me to nothing. Use me as you will, O Lord. Amen.


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Ever at Work

Reading: Psalm 105: 6, 16-22, and 45b

Verse 17: “He sent a man before them – Joseph, sold as a slave”.

Psalm 105 tells the story of the Israelites time in Egypt and of how God saved them. It is the story of God’s faithfulness to his chosen people. In this sense, the Bible is a historical document. The Bible tells the whole story of God’s people, beginning in the garden of Eden and ending with the coming renewal of heaven and earth. One events links to another, person after person plays their role. All are part of God’s good plans, all working towards the final return to all of God’s children living and walking and talking daily with the Lord in a new paradise.

Today’s verses are part of that story. They are, in fact, just a part of Joseph’s story too. The psalmist reminds us that before the famine occurred, God was already at work. That is usually how God works. In verse seventeen we read, “He sent a man before them – Joseph, sold as a slave”. God was ahead of the game. In his wisdom he saw how to use this world event to bring the family of Israel back together again. Joseph’s rise to power in the king’s household was also foretold. Those dreams that a young Joseph had would come to pass. All parts of the bigger story.

Today’s passage also reminds us that Joseph’s journey was not always easy. He entered Egypt as a slave, sold and discarded by his own flesh and blood. Joseph’s path to become “master” of pharaoh’s household would include a couple of other trials along the way. Through it all, Joseph remains faithful, trusting in the working out of God’s plan. God continues to be at work. One trial after another reveals the power of God at work in the world. That is one of the major overall themes in the story of the Bible: God is faithful. God is ever at work in the story of God’s chosen ones, ever working the whole family together with one another and with God himself. This is the Israelites’ story, this is Joseph’s story, this is our story. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Living God, your fingerprints are all over Joseph’s story. No matter what came – his brothers’ jealousy, Potiphar’s wife’s lust, the cupbearer’s poor memory – Joseph remained faithful and you remained at work. Grant me the same faith and trust and perseverance, O God. Amen.


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Put to the Test

Reading: Genesis 22: 1-14

Verse 5: “We will worship and then we will come back to you”.

In yesterday’s reading, we focused on Abraham’s trust and obedience. There is also a second person who demonstrates a great deal of trust and obedience. Isaac accompanies his father Abraham and plays his role as son, obedient to the father. In other ways we see Isaac as an example of the kind of faith and trust that Jesus modeled on his way to death. Only then, the son was not spared.

Throughout the story in Genesis 22, Isaac does the will of his father. He carries the wood up the mountain to the place of sacrifice. He does not struggle when he is bound up. He is quiet and at peace with the role that he is playing. Each of these things are reminiscent of Jesus’ trip to the cross on Calvary.

As followers of Jesus we are often asked to step into places or to do things for Jesus that may be uncomfortable or may involve some risk. To step outside of our comfort zone, to engage with someone who is not just like us, to give generously when we are led to be selfless – these are our moments when faith is put to the test. Do we, like Isaac, completely trust the father? And are we as willing to accept and play our role to fulfill the will of God? May we, like Isaac and many other faithful followers, turn towards the Lord in trust and obedience, becoming willing servants of our God most high.

Prayer: Father God, help me to trust in you – to follow your lead and to go willingly and obediently, even into a place or situation where I am unsure or am uncomfortable. Guide me to step forward in faith as my act of worship. Amen.


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Put to the Test

Reading: Genesis 22: 1-14

Verse 5: “We will worship and then we will come back to you”.

In yesterday’s reading, we focused on Abraham’s trust and obedience. There is also a second person who demonstrates a great deal of trust and obedience. Isaac accompanies his father Abraham and plays his role as son, obedient to the father. In other ways we see Isaac as an example of the kind of faith and trust that Jesus modeled on his way to death. Only then, the son was not spared.

Throughout the story in Genesis 22, Isaac does the will of his father. He carries the wood up the mountain to the place of sacrifice. He does not struggle when he is bound up. He is quiet and at peace with the role that he is playing. Each of these things are reminiscent of Jesus’ trip to the cross on Calvary.

As followers of Jesus we are often asked to step into places or to do things for Jesus that may be uncomfortable or may involve some risk. To step outside of our comfort zone, to engage with someone who is not just like us, to give generously when we are led to be selfless – these are our moments when faith is put to the test. Do we, like Isaac, completely trust the father? And are we as willing to accept and play our role to fulfill the will of God? May we, like Isaac and many other faithful followers, turn towards the Lord in trust and obedience, becoming willing servants of our God most high.

Prayer: Father God, help me to trust in you – to follow your lead and to go willingly and obediently, even into a place or situation where I am unsure or am uncomfortable. Guide me to step forward in faith as my act of worship. Amen.


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Trinity Sunday 2019

Reading: John 16: 12-15

Verse 12: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now hear”.

Today is Trinity Sunday on the church calendar. It is the day we recognize and celebrate the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christianity is unique in its understanding of “God in three persons”, as the hymn goes. The Trinity is a difficult thing to try and explain and to fully understand. To exactly pin down the roles of the three is also hard. Father, Spirit, and Son are three in one. A similar earthly example is that I am at once a son, a father, and a husband. I am only one but I function in three mostly distinct ways within my family unit. Each role is distinct yet at the core of each is the essence of who I am. The Trinity is similar. Each has a fairly distinct role yet all three share common characteristics such as love, grace, compassion…

Because the Trinity is three expressions of God, there is a unity amongst them. Jesus speaks of this unity in today’s passage. Speaking to his disciples, Jesus says to them, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now hear”. I’m sure God thought a similar thing when he last spoke through Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet. Jesus then goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit does not speak on its own. Jesus himself also spoke of his connection back to God. In several passages, Jesus alludes to the fact that all he does and says is based in and is done through God, not on his own. The Holy Spirit will continue to speak after Jesus returns to sit at the right hand of the father. All that the Spirit speaks is rooted in the common core that together is represented by the Trinity.

On our faith journey, we each experience all three persons of the Trinity. We experience and come to know God and Jesus through the Bible and in the moments when we can feel their presence in our lives in tangible ways. We also learn of the Holy Spirit in the Bible and then most often experience the Spirit in the whispers, nudges, reminders, and convictions that help us faithfully walk out our faith. The three in one connects to us in many ways, each a part of our experience of faith. Thanks be to God for the dynamic power of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our daily lives. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thank you for your presence in my life. For the love and care rooted in the Father, for the example of these lived out in Jesus Christ, and for the moment by moment presence of the Spirit that helps me to live these out, thank you three and all! Amen.


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Faith Formation

Reading: 2nd Samuel 2: 18-20 & 26

Verse 26: “The boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

After being dedicated to God, young Samuel continued to grow both physically and spiritually. Hannah would make him new priestly garments every year and would bring them to him at the time of the yearly sacrifice in the temple. Our passage tells us that “the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

As I think about Samuel’s upbringing I think about how we raise our children – both in our nuclear families and in our church families. Just as Samuel was dedicated to God at birth, so too do people of faith dedicate their young children to God. In some faith traditions we baptize our infants, marking them as a member of the family of faith and pledging to raise them in the faith. In other faith traditions, infants are dedicated or consecrated with the same marking and pledge to raise them in the faith. In both cases the congregation has a role to play. The congregation pledges to do all they can to help raise the child in the faith.

As soon as they are able to we begin to bring our children to Sunday school or perhaps to a Wednesday night faith formation class. They learn the stories of the Bible and begin to apply its teachings to their lives and decisions. At some point we hope our children grow out of the faith of their parents and into a faith of their own. In some churches baptism marks this point and in others confirmation does.

As we look at Samuel’s life and at other examples we find in scripture, we see that the plan that God has for all children is to be raised in the faith. May we be attentive to all of our children, ever aware of our roles as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, mentors, teachers, pastors… to be a part of their faith formation, helping them to always “grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be faithful in leading and guiding my children and all of the children that come under my care, helping each to know you more and to draw closer to you. May I ever do these things with both my words and my actions. Amen.


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Embrace Your Role

Reading: Luke 1: 76-79

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

Zechariah, like every other person living in Israel, was awaiting the coming of the Messiah. The Jews had been living under the thumb of the Romans and the harsh leaders they appointed. They long for a Messiah King to come and set them free.

When I think of bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ, I think we all want to be the closer. We want to be the one that hits the walk-off home run, the one who inks the big deal, the one who prays for the first time with one who has given their life to Christ. But for most of us, wr are the kids that shags the foul balls, the gal who ran off the copies of the big contract, the humble servant who lives a life that simply bears witness to the love and hope of Jesus Christ.

Zechariah had drawn the life time opportunity to go into the inner temple to burn the incense at the altar. When he was in the Holy of Holies the angel of the Lord appeared to him. “You will have a son!” was Gabriel’s message. The faithful and blameless but old and barren couple was to have a child! Clean-up batter is walking to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. The pitcher throws a curve ball that doesn’t break. The pitch floats in, almost hanging there, right over the heart of the plate. The batter’s eyes get big. Nope Zechariah, not this time. Your boy, John, won’t close the big deal. He will not be the Messiah that you and so many are longing for. He will be the set-up man.

Zechariah embraces this role. He knows the Old Testament story. There has to be a voice calling out in the wilderness. John may not be the One, but his role is still super important. John will be “a prophet of the Most High”. Zechariah prophesies, “You will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for Him”. Read that line again: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for Him”. This too is our role. We too are called to be the humble servant who lives a life that simply bears witness to the love and hope of Jesus Christ. Embrace your role. Live into your role today. That person you encounter today may never meet the Lord Most High if you don’t introduce them today. Help prepare a way for the Lord.

Prayer: Lord, may I be a great set-up man today. May all I meet be inched a little closer to knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior today. May it be so. Amen.


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Grow

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

Verse 15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”.

Our goal in life is to grow. As little children we dream about what we will be – a firefighter, a football player, and eventually a teacher then a pastor. Even once we settle into our “career” for life, the desire to grow remains in us. We do not just want to be a ___, but we want to be the best ___ that we can be. To do so we must continue to read and study and go to conferences…

These same ideas are true of our faith journey. And God has a plan for this! In verse 11 Paul tells us that God created some people to be apostles and some to be prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. At different times in our journey we need people to play these various roles so that we can continue to grow. For example, when we were young we relied on our teachers to plant the stories of faith in us. As we move into our adult years we continue to need teachers to grow in our faith but also find a need for pastors to shepherd and guide us. All of these roles are intended for the same purpose: “so that the body of Christ may be built up”.

Paul tells us why – so that we are no longer “infants”. When we are infants we are not sure of our faith so we are easily influenced and we are more susceptible to temptation and sin. This is a place we can choose to remain and some do. Paul wants more for us. We should each want more for ourselves too. To this, Paul writes, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”. Sometimes this truth is hard to hear. Accountability is a necessary part of the maturation process. We must be willing to accept “the truth in love” to move into spiritual maturity.

Our goal as faithful followers of Jesus Christ is to attain the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. Although we will never be perfect as Christ was perfect, the goal remains to grow more and more into Christ. As we each play the role that God has blessed us with, the body of Christ, the church, “grows and builds itself up in love”. The question for today is this: how will you help another to grow in faith?