pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Generous Fruit?

Reading: Luke 3: 7-18

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

John the Baptist begins his teaching with a challenge, calling out the “vipers” and in the crowd. The general thought is that John is addressing the religious leaders who have come out to see him. They came not to repent and be baptized but to see just what John is up to and to ridicule him and his message. “Just who does he think he is?” would be their primary thought. John, who knows that he has been sent by God, is not intimidated or threatened. He directly addresses their arrogance and sense of privilege, warning that the ax is already at the root. Many have come to John, heard his message, and have repented and been baptized. The proof is in the pudding. John challenges the religious leaders to do the same, saying, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. In other words, it isn’t enough to just say you have faith; it must be visible in your life and in the lives of those you minister to.

Before we jump on the Pharisee and Sadducee condemnation bandwagon, we must first look within ourselves. Do our lives of faith bear kingdom fruit? Do our lives draw others into relationship with Jesus Christ? John gives some practical examples of what this looks like. For some, it is clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. For others it is not using your position of authority to take advantage of others, but to treat all fairly and equally and justly. For others it is being content with what you have, not getting into the race to have more and more. In doing so, it allows others to have some.

This season of the year is a time when many are generous. Is it just to keep our spouse and children and good friends happy and satisfied? Or is it to spread the love of Jesus Christ to just one more person and then to one more person after that? Do we seek ways to give gifts that do not come wrapped up in pretty paper? If we do, then we will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Giving God, guide me to those in need of hope as well as the basics of life – food, shelter, clothing. Help me to be a blessing in all the ways I can to all the people I can, shining your light and love into their lives. Amen.

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Mighty to Save

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 14-18

Verse 17: “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save”.

Today we read from the book of Zephaniah. He was a prophet in a time when God was judging the nation. Zephaniah lived and spoke about 600 years before Jesus was born. The first chapters of Zephaniah are about doom and gloom and judgment. The people of God have been living in sin. In chapter three, he begins to speak of a better future for Jerusalem. There is still some wrath and consuming fire coming, but there is also hope in God calling His people back. The people will be purified. The remnant will be meek and humble and honest. God will protect such people.

Our passage today begins with God saying, “Sing, O Daughter of Zion, shout aloud, O Israel”! Zephaniah signals a new day coming, a time of gladness and rejoicing. He proclaims that the Lord is with them. There is no need for fear. Verse 17 reads, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save”. Yes, indeed, the Lord is mighty to save! God will delight in His people, He will quiet their groaning and dry their tears with His love, He will rejoice over them. It is a future of hope and joy and love and peace. It sounds a lot like Advent. Each Sunday we celebrate one if these characteristics of God.

Zephaniah’s message to the people is that salvation is near. God remains their God and He will redeem His people. Fast forward about 2,600 years or so. The message is the same: God is mighty to save! God is with us. Hallelujah and amen!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for continuing to redeem your children and to love on us in so many ways. We all need mercy and compassion. I am so grateful that you are mighty to save. Thank you God! Amen.


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Trust in God, Our Salvation

Reading: Isaiah 12: 2-6

Verse 2: “Surely God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid”.

Life can bring us all kinds of ups and downs. In the midst of Advent and the holiday season, even then, “life” affects us. In church yesterday, on the second Sunday of Advent, we had two prayer cards for families who lost loved ones, one for a surgery, one for a man who had to place his wife in an Alzheimer’s unit, and one for a grandson. It felt like a lot. Yet for each of these families affected, it feels much more profound and impactful.

As I read and reflected on today’s passage, I realized that Isaiah’s audience must have felt some big emotions too. As Isaiah spoke these words to the people, the powerful empire of Assyria was bearing down on their part of the world. In what felt like a tide sweeping across the earth, the Israelites were awaiting the first waves. As what surely felt like impending doom crept closer and closer, Isaiah offers these words of hope: “Surely God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid”. Yes, folks, trouble is on the way. But God is greater. Isaiah’s message to Israel is the same message to us: trust in God.

For those feeling sadness or loss or even uncertainty during this time of the year, this is an important message to hear: trust in God. Trust that God will lead you through, and He will. Trust that God will bring you the strength that you need, and He will. Trust that God will give you discernment and will bless your decisions, and He will. God is surely your salvation.

Isaiah closes our passage for today encouraging us to “shout aloud and sing for joy”. He is encouraging the people and us to celebrate God’s faithfulness in the past. In doing so we are strengthened for the day today. To all who are hurting or worried or struggling this Advent season, remember, God loves you, God is trustworthy, God is your salvation. Trust in God. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, I pray for those who are down, those who are blue, those who need your loving presence, your hope, your grace. Please be present to them, O God of our salvation. Thank you. Amen.


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We Are Messengers

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 1: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me”.

Malachi closes out the Old Testament with a reminder and a warning and a call. These three are interconnected. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are reminded that Jesus will suddenly come; therefore, we must be ready to stand when He appears. We are warned – Jesus will refine and cleanse, purifying us. Will we make the grade? We also find a call. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to spread the good news to prepare all people for the coming of the Lord.

The first two are inward. When Jesus comes “like a thief in the night”, will we be ready or will our faith be asleep? Jesus calls for us to be ready. He expects to find it well with our souls. If so, we will survive the refining process. It will only purify us. It will not destroy us. It will be the final cleansing before we enter eternity. If, day by day, we seek to be in a right relationship with Jesus, repenting as need be, then we have no worries.

The last message we hear in our passage is outward. We cannot practice the first two just to live in our own ivory tower, in “holy solitary” as John Wesley put it. That is not God’s purpose for us. Verse 1 again reminds us: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me”. In Malachi we can read this as John the Baptist. Yes, it does speak of John. But it also speaks of you and me. We too are messengers of the good news. We are phase 2, so to speak. We await the return of Christ. As we wait, we use our voice to prepare the way for the Lord bless in the lives of those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This should lead us to the question: who are they?

In verse 5, Malachi identifies a few and Jesus certainly does as well throughout His ministry. We are called to the widows and the fatherless, to the aliens, to the lost, to the broken, to the poor. If we just look around a bit, we will find them. They are in all communities and in most neighborhoods. We will not likely find them in our ivory towers or at our Sunday morning country clubs. They are across the street or alley; they are on the other side of town.

Messengers are sent to proclaim the news. You and I, we are sent to those who do not know the good news of Jesus Christ. May we engage those who do not know Jesus. May we be the gospel and may we share the gospel with those on the margins, with those on the fringes. In doing so, we prepare the way before Jesus, so that He may enter in.

Prayer: Lord, make me a messenger, as hands and feet of Christ, as well as love lived out loud, drawing all to the Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Prepare the Way

Reading: Luke 3:1-6

Verse 3: “He went… preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

The arrival of a messenger has been anticipated for a long time in Israel. 800 years before John’s arrival, Isaiah spoke of the one coming to prepare the way for the Lord. This is a long time to wait. Adding to the suspense, Malachi, the last prophet to speak God’s word, fell silent 400 years before John is born. It has been a long, quiet period of waiting. So it is a big event when one comes speaking the word of God.

Luke establishes the historical facts of when John went out into the desert. These are familiar names: Pilate, Herod, Annas, Caiaphas. These men play roles in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Living into Isaiah’s prophecy and into the words of his own father Zechariah, John begins his ministry. John the Baptist heads out into the wilderness around the Jordan River and begins to preach. He doesn’t go to the temple to preach. It is full of pretense and pomp… John goes into the wilderness because it is simpler, less complex, more basic. The scene matches John’s lifestyle and his message. In the temple – as we will see with Jesus – the religious leaders can try and quiet or alter his message.

Verse three tells us that “He went… preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. John was calling the people to clean up their lives – to rid themselves of all their sin and pretense and clutter. These are the things that get in the way of a relationship with the Savior. John is calling them to look within, to search hard, to be honest with themselves. The desert is a good place to do this. It is a good place to find a quiet space, a place of solitude, to reflect on John Wesley’s quintessential question: “How is it with your soul”?

As we consider John’s challenge or invitation, depending on how it is with your soul, may we each find the time and the courage today to plumb the depths of our souls as we seek to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord in our hearts and in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, in the quiet may I find a good, true look within. May I summon the courage to look deeply, to search the darkest corners, to root out all that I need to repent of today. May I repent of those deepest and most loved sins. Make me more like you today. Amen.


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Love, Discern, Fruit

Reading: Philippians 1: 9-11

Verses 9-11: “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more… that you discern what is best… may you be filled with the fruit of righteousness”.

In our passage today, Paul offers a prayer for three things that are connected. One leads to another; one depends on the two proceeding it. These three play out in our lives of faith.

Paul begins by praying that the Philippians’ love “abound more and more”. This is the picture of love in our lives. The day we marry or have a child, we think we can’t possibly love our spouse or that child any more than we do that day. Yet we most certainly do. The same is true in our relationship with God. And the same is true of our love of the stranger. Christ’s love within us leads us to someone in need and as we share the same His love with them, our love of them begins to grow.

Love leads to discernment. When we know how our spouse or child or neighbor ticks, it is because our love for them has grown. It leads us into understanding them. Understanding them and our relationship with them is what allows us to look past faults, sins, and even wrongs against us. This discernment allows us to continue to love them and sometimes to love them even more. It is this knowledge built upon love that leads us to action – “to be filled with the fruit of righteousness”, to use Paul’s words.

When we come to love and know someone, we know their situation, their struggles… This allows us to become humble servants at times. This produces fruit – pure and blameless because it is not about us but is about doing the work of the Lord and bringing Him the glory. The more we love God, the more we know God, the more we are led to be His light and love in the world. It is a connection that we are blessed to be a part of and we are blessed when we are participating in it. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: God of love, help me to love you and all of your creatures more today than yesterday. May love lead to knowledge and knowledge to service, producing kingdom fruit. Amen.


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Community

Reading: Philippians 1: 3-8

Verse 6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul begins by thanking God for the faith this church displays. Each time that he prays for them he rejoices in their “partnership in the gospel” with him. They must be living out their faith well. Paul also recognizes the end game as well. Their faithful living will lead to the redemption of their souls. In verse 6 he writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Paul is thankful for their place in the family of God both now and in eternity.

Do you have folks in your life that you can say this about? Can you survey those you know and offer up such a prayer of thanksgiving for them? We each have people “in my heart”, just as Paul did, that we too can be lifting prayers of thanksgiving for. There are many in my family and in my circles of church friends and colleagues who have great faith that I am thankful for. Their witness and example encourage and strengthen me on my journey of faith.

For Paul, whether in chains or out preaching the gospel, he appreciated the connection that he has with all Christians everywhere. Paul knows that the family of God extends across geographical spaces and through cultural and social differences. He writes, “all of you share in God’s grace with me”. If he were reading this line aloud, I think Paul would emphasize the word “all”. There is a unity amongst and a connection between all members of the body of Christ. For this too I rejoice. For Christians everywhere, no matter our denominational flavor, we all share the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are all living under the same covenant of grace. In the essentials, we enjoy unity and community. Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for all of those you have and continue to place in my life who live as witnesses to your will and way. They mean so much to me, to my faith. Bless them, O Lord. I also thank you for my fellow Christians, who also seek to bring you glory as together we build the kingdom. Thank you God for the larger community of faith. Amen.