pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Gather

Reading: Psalm 122

Psalm 122 is a song of ascent.  It is a song that would be sung as one traveled to Jerusalem to participate in one of the major religious festivals.  The song was sung to help the pilgrim enter the right frame of mind for worship.  Today, it would be like singing “Joy to the World” as you drive to church on Christmas Eve after working a ten hour shift at the mall.  The pilgrims who would sing the Psalm are reminding themselves of the joy of worshipping God in the temple.  They are also remembering the significance of the holiday.

Soon enough the airwaves, internet feeds, and television channels will be filled with all things Christmas.  Sale ads, incredible offers, silly shows, and Christmas specials will all remind us that the season of shopping is upon us.  And somewhere in there almost all people will remember, in spite of all our consumer culture says, that there is a “reason for the season”.  Come December 24 many will stream into sanctuaries all over the world, in small towns and big cities, to celebrate the birth of Christ.  They will be much like the pilgrims coming to the temple in our Psalm.

The high festivals and Christmas share much in common.  Both focus on what God has done for us.  Both draw a wonderful body of believers together to praise and worship God.  Both celebrate God’s love for us.  Both give a glimpse into the connection all people have with God.  Both bring people from all walks of life together in the name of the King.

May we joyously gather throughout this Advent season with one and all to truly worship the Lord our God.  It is a time to sincerely welcome all who seek to know the King.  With open hearts and minds, with the joy of the season all around, may we join as one this holy season.


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Equality, Justice, Blessing

Reading: Isaiah 2: 1-5

God has always intended to rule the whole earth.  On the one hand, God is fully in control of all things.  God is capable of ‘making’ anything happen.  God gave mankind free will.  At times we make poor decisions and select bad choices.  Nations could still function today by following God’s ways.  In it how our country began and those ideals of equality, justice, and freedom remain the basis of our governing principles and laws.  In general, peace and order are still the norms of the day.

Yet in places here and in pockets there, many are not ‘living the American dream’.  In places, there is no sense of hope.  There is no clear vision of how life could be any better than ‘this’.  There is not a path out of poverty and oppression.  Systems are established that continue dependence and reliance on the system itself instead of teaching people a new or different way.  An example of this would be the high recidivism rates in our jails and prisons.  People complete their sentence and the system wishes them well but quietly wonders when they’ll be back.  In too many systems we offer a ‘hand out’ but do not offer a ‘hand up’.  It is simply easier this way.

As people of God, we are called to stand against and to work to right wrongs, to fix injustices, and to help end oppression.  We are called to speak truth to those in power to bring voice to those without power.  Some of us are called to be in places of power, to help change come from within.  And sometimes we work with individuals within systems to walk alongside people who are in poverty or homelessness or prison.  Change is possible – both for the individual and for the systems.  May we each, as followers of a Jesus who loved all without question and who saw all as worthy, follow that lead as we work for equality and justice and blessing for all people.


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Coming Soon

Reading: Isaiah 2: 1-5

Today’s reading paints a picture I long for.  Isaiah speaks of going up to the mountain of God so that we can learn his ways in order to walk his paths.  It ends with a great line, “Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord”.  All humanity longs for a sense of peace, for a sense of well-being.  We find this by faithfully living our daily lives in God’s presence.

In our lives and in places around the world, peace and contentment do not always rule the day.  On a personal level, we all deal at times with issues of health and rocky relationships and other trials.  In the world, violence and oppression and injustice are everyday occurrences in some places.

On a personal level, when we learn God’s ways we are better equipped to walk through the storms of life because we know that God is present to us.  God’s light guides our path and we live with a confidence that no matter what the world brings, we know that ultimately we are in God’s hands.

But there is much sorrow and pain and brokenness is our world.  For me to begin to understand how this can be ‘fixed’ is simply beyond me.  Yet I know it is well within God’s care.  In today’s passage we find comfort and reassurance that God has a plan.  Verse four is one of great hope for me.  One day God will settle disputes between peoples.  They will then “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks”.  Instruments of war and violence will become implements to feed one another.  People will provide for one another’s basic needs and famine will be no more.  A time of peace is coming.

Advent is just around the corner too.  It is a time when we prepare for the coming of the Prince of Peace.  Humbly we ask, O Lord Jesus, come soon.


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The Journey On

Reading: Colossians 1: 15-20

Jesus, Paul declares, is the “firstborn of all creation”.  Since the beginning of time, Jesus has been the creator and the purpose for all that has been created.  He is therefore supreme over all.  Yet counter to all of this, Jesus is also the one who humbled Himself to death on a cross, becoming the “firstborn from among the dead”.  In doing so, Jesus became the way to true and eternal life.  Only through His blood can we be made righteous.

Jesus rule and example were so countercultural.  Jesus loved instead of conquered.  Jesus healed instead of killed.  Jesus forgave instead of holding grudges.  Jesus sacrificed instead of taking advantage.  Jesus offered compassion instead of judgment.  In all these ways, Jesus gave us an example we can each follow.  Love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, understanding, servant.  Jesus’ power comes from His heart, not from His brain or His brawn.  We are each born with the spark of the divine in our hearts.  We can thus all live a life that follows the ways of Jesus.  We were created in His image, intended to follow after Jesus as His disciples.

Next Sunday begins a new year in the church calendar as Advent begins.  Like the end of the calendar year, may it be a time when we pause and take stock of our journey of faith.  John Wesley called this life of faith a “journey towards perfection”.  It is a place we never reach, yet one we should always be arriving towards.  Jesus was the perfect example of God’s love lived out.  This week may we look at our journeys of faith – at both our times moving forward and at our times of failure.  May we each commit to a year of growth in our faith, seeking to ever become more and more like Jesus Christ, the one true King, the one and only Way.  May it be so.


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Worthy

Reading: Colossians 1: 10-14

Jesus desires for all people to enter His kingdom.  Jesus showed this by engaging everyone He met so that He could share the good news of love with them all.  The kingdom of Jesus offers freedom from the chains of sin.  Once we confess Jesus as Lord, we are not free of sin.  We are freed from sin as we find forgiveness and redemption in Jesus.  As humans we will always be prone to sin.  But because of Jesus that us not the end of our story.  We can be made new and find peace each time we confess and repent of our sin.

The forgiveness of sin us a free gift.  There is nothing we can do or say to remove the guilt and shame of our sins on our own.  All the power to do this rests in Jesus alone.  Once we claim Jesus as Lord, the free gift is ours.  It is a gift without limit.  That is how great Jesus’ love is – forgiveness and redemption are ours in limitless supply.  What a great love.  What a gift.

The response to the gift and the love is what Paul is writing about in Colossians 1: “that you may live a life worthy of the Lord”.  Our response to what Jesus has offered and done for us is to try and live like Jesus.  This is the never-ending journey of faith, to grow to be more and more like Jesus.  Living like Jesus involves bearing fruit for the kingdom.  Our primary way we bear fruit is by loving others as Jesus first loved us.  It is living lives if love, compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness.  It is being a servant to all.

We are equipped to live a life worthy of Jesus through the practices of our faith.  We read the Bible and meditate on the Word to grow in our understanding of and connection to God.  We pray often to be known by and to know God more.  We worship to bring our praise and thanksgiving to God.  When we fill ourselves with the things of God, then we are also able to pour His love out into the lives of others.  This is a life worthy of Christ.


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Jesus’ Response

Reading: Luke 23: 39-43

Almost everyone abandons faith in Jesus and hope that He is the Messiah as He hangs on the cross.  How could this be the Messiah?  Almost all of the disciples, those who have spent three years with Jesus and who have heard over and over that this day is coming, almost all abandon Him and flee in fear.  Those who did not think Jesus was the Messiah feel affirmation in the cross.  For them it is an “I told you so” moment.  How could this be the Messiah?

In our passage today, one who we would think highly unlikely to acknowledge Jesus as Lord does just that.  The thief on the cross next to Jesus has done enough illegal to himself be crucified.  In his defense of Jesus he admits his own guilt: “we are getting what we deserve”.  Yet somehow he sees Jesus for what He truly is.  The thief says, “This man has done nothing wrong”.  Somehow he understands what Jesus is doing for humanity on the cross.  In light of this understanding, he asks Jesus to remember him “when you come into your kingdom”.  The thief recognizes Jesus as the Messiah.

Jesus’ response to the thief is the same as it is to so many who have come to Him.  He is welcoming and accepting and loving.  Instead of “your faith has made you well”, Jesus instead tells him that his faith has saved him: “Today you will be with me in paradise”.  Jesus sees straight through to the heart and welcomes another believer home.

There are two lessons in this for us.  The first is to see all as worthy of Jesus’ kingdom.  We need to look at all who are lost as Jesus did – as just another beloved child of God searching for a Savior.  The second is to realize that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ.  Not what we have done, not who we are in life, and not even the lateness in life when we come to accept Jesus as Lord.  Jesus welcomes and accepts and loves all who come seeking Him.  This day, may we help others to see and to approach Jesus just as they are.  May we help all to see that they too are a dearly loved child of God.


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To the Cross

Reading: Luke 23: 33-38

As we draw near to the end of our season in the Gospel of Luke, we come to the cross.  In a way it is odd to come to the cross as we prepare to celebrate Advent, a time when we remember Jesus’ birth.  Yet it serves to remind us of why Jesus needed to be born and to live among us.  After all, Jesus came to die.

Oh how the people wanted to have a Messiah who would rid them of the oppressive Romans.  They were looking for a new King David.  During Jesus’ ministry He brought much healing and offered some great teaching on how God really wanted humanity to live together.  For all who saw and heard Jesus or even just the stories, they all knew that Jesus was something special.  But Jesus was not the kingly Messiah they wanted so they mocked Him on the cross.  He did not meet their expectations so they ridiculed and abused Him, releasing some of their own frustrations with their current situation.

It would have been so tempting to lash out from the cross and maybe even to really save Himself.  But Jesus came for a far greater purpose.  To save Himself would have been selfish.  Jesus always placed God first, others second, and Himself last.  To save Himself would have gone against all that Jesus was and is.  Instead, Jesus chose to give Himself.  Instead of releasing His human form from the cross and wiping out the Romans, Jesus unleashed His divine self and defeated an enemy far greater and much stronger than any human empire.  On the cross and in His resurrection, Jesus defeated sin and death.  Sin and death had been ruling since the first sin entered the world through Adam and Eve.

This is why we come to the cross just before we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  It is the greatest gift mankind has ever been given – the freedom from sin and death.  Thank you Jesus.