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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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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What a Gift

Christmas cards are still a staple at Christmas time for many people.  Stores sell tons of cards and many people make their own Christmas cards with pictures of their families on the front.  Most of the cards have something to do with the Christ aspect of Christmas.  The references can be through Bible verses or quotes, through using the many names of Jesus, or through the good news of peace, joy, love, and hope.

Christmas carols are another staple of the season and also do the same things to share Christmas and the spirit of the season.  The ‘classics’ are a collective memory that we all share.  It is a wonderful part of Christmas to joyously lift our voices in song to tell the good news.  Sometimes we even go caroling to places like nursing homes and in our neighborhoods to share Christmas with others.

And, of course, Christmas services also draw us back to Christ as the center of Christmas.  In our worship services we read the scriptures and also sing the songs.  We use prayer and the proclaimed word as well to share the story of Christmas.  Perhaps we share in communion.  Tomorrow on Christmas Eve we also light the Christ candle and place it in the center of the Advent wreath, recognizing Jesus Christ as the center of our peace, joy, love, and hope.

Advent is also a time of personal study and reflection.  We read a devotional book or use an Advent calendar to connect to the season in a deeper way.  These personal practices have the same purpose as the corporate practices: to remind us of Jesus and what a gift He is to us and to all of humanity.  Thanks be to God for this gift.

Scripture reference: Colossians 3: 15-17


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Offering All

In response to the people crying out to God, He promises to send a messenger.  The people are asking God to end the oppression and injustices they are enduring.  In their hearts they probably want God to swoop in and destroy their enemies.  How hard it is to look within.  How hard it is to see that we are often the cause of our own struggles.

God knows the true root of the problem so instead of sending a powerful king or a legion of angels, He tells Malachi that He will send a refiner.  God is sending a messenger who will purify the hearts of the people.  This messenger will use the refiner’s fire and the launderer’s soap to cleanse the people of their sin.  God even poses the question, “Who will stand?”  It will be an ordeal for the people.

I love this text as we begin Advent.  As we prepare for and pray for the coming of Jesus, I think we do so too often with the misconception that we ourselves are ready.  It is fine for God to come and refine all those other people so they are adequately prepared for Advent.  We want to think we are okay.  How we hate to look within.

The refiner’s fire and the advent of God;s righteousness will touch us all.  How clean are we willing to make ourselves?  How much of self are we willing to lay aside so we are truly ready to welcome Jesus at Advent and into our hearts?  He only refines what we offer up.  He only enters through the door we open.  This Advent season may we offer all we have to our Lord and Savior.

Scripture reference: Malachi 3: 1-4


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The True Light

One cannot read passages such as today’s and not think that, yes, the world is in pretty bad shape.  One can look at all of the disasters and evil befalling the world and think maybe the end is drawing near.  Maybe it is drawing near.  As we look at our world it can be easy to feel powerless and maybe even a little hopeless.  Some of the issues are so big and we are so small.  Indeed, if it were up to just us to save the world, we would be in trouble.  But it is not up to us.  It is up to God and He calls on us to help.

At the end of today’s passage, Jesus tells us where to start: with ourselves.  He warns us to be careful, to be ready, and to be on watch.  In Christmas terms we are to prepare our hearts and to call out ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel.’  As we enter Advent today we do so with the feeling that something is coming.  We prepare ourselves to celebrate Christ’s birth and to anticipate His return.  We also prepare ourselves to be His light and love in our world each and every day.

Christ’s love must shine brightly in our hearts.  It must be brighter and more joyful than all the Christmas lights, fancy jingles, and hoopla.  As Christ’s ambassadors we must joyfully share the hope and love we find in Jesus Christ.  In our dark world, hope and love will go a long way.  The world is broken and needs to be reconciled to Jesus.  This Advent season may we play our role in helping God’s love and hope shine in the darkness.  May we help reveal the true Light of Christmas to the world.

Scripture reference: Luke 21: 25-36


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Prepare Him Room

One Christmas carol sings, “let every heart prepare him room.”  This is the essence of Advent – to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus.  Throughout these four weeks we seek to welcome Christ, our Emmanuel.

Today is Black Friday.  The spirit of today is pretty much the opposite of the spirit of Christmas.  Where Christmas is about giving and loving, today is too often about taking and getting.  People do things today that they would not normally do – get up really early, stand in long lines, rush and battle to get by the next guy, and sometimes become rude and obnoxious to secure that super special bargain.  And in some ways these two events are also similar.  There is excitement and anticipation in the air.  One is often there to get a gift for someone else.

In today’s passage Paul prays for God to increase, bless, and strengthen their love for one another.  It is through this love that they grow to share God’s love with others.  He knew that the more they loved, the more others would come to know God’s love as well.  Paul also knew that this pattern of loving others would deepen the Thessalonian’s faith too.

As we seek to prepare our hearts this Advent season, may we also do so by finding ways to love others more deeply.  Maybe that is by including someone on the fringe in your gathering or outing.  Maybe that it is by bringing some food to the neighbor or friend who is struggling.  Maybe it is by visiting the widow inthe nursing home.  Maybe it is by volunteering to ring a bell.  When we do these things, all of heaven and earth sing.  When we do these things we bring honor and glory to our King.  May Jesus Emmanuel, God with us, lead us to share His love this Advent season!

Scripture reference: 1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13


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God’s Presence and Promise

Jeremiah was writing from a prison cell.  At times he must have felt like the situation was hopeless.  Yet in the midst of this bad situation, he heard God’s promise to send a just and righteous ruler to lead Israel.  In his time of trial, God brought Jeremiah a word of hope.

As Advent nears, our longing builds for the coming of Christ, which we celebrate on Christmas Eve.  Advent calendars count down the days for children and visions of school vacation and presents dance in their heads.  To be honest, as adults we looked at the vacation schedule long ago as we too anticipate some time off.  But it is also undeniable that as we wait, in Advent, the longing builds within us for the night to arrive when we all gather together, when we sing the familiar songs, and when we celebrate our Lord and Savior’s birth.

While almost all have a sense of waiting, many feel this sense of longing as well.  But for some, there is also a sadness hanging over this season of joy and hope and love.  If within the last year trauma or loss has occurred, then the Advent season brings struggle as well.  If it is the first Christmas after the loss of a loved one or after a divorce or job loss or after a serious illness, then there is pain, grief, and hurt as well.  In these times and with these emotions, God can feel distant.  It is important for those struggling to be reminded of God’s presence and His promises.

For some battling these sad emotions, they can connect to God and find hope and love and peace.  For those that are struggling may we be aware and may we find ways to come alongside them and to bring God’s presence and promises to life through our words, actions, and presence.

Scripture reference: Jeremiah 33: 14-17