pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Call

Reading: Matthew 3: 1-6

Verse 3: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'”.

John the Baptist was an anomaly for his day. He would be so in about any age. He lived a very rustic lifestyle out in the wilderness. He preached a basic message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near”. His passion and sincerity drew a few at first but soon his ministry led many to go out to see John the Baptist. He was the one of whom Isaiah was speaking when he wrote, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'”.

John was offering a simple but challenging message. It took some effort to go out to see him. The real work began after you tackled both of these things. John the Baptist’s message did not bring peace, but disruption and change and transformation. To repent, to be baptized, led to a commitment to walk a new road. One was leaving behind a sinful life and seeking to walk the narrow road. Emerging from the waters meant a call to walk a more devout and God-honoring faith.

Maybe through a song, maybe through a prayer, maybe through the message, God will speak into people’s hearts. As they hear the challenge, as they hear the call to something new, will they step forward, willing to risk transformation? Or will they try and ignore the call, seeking instead to remain on the soft and easy path? May the Holy Spirit be at work in our churches today, preparing the way for the coming Messiah. God, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, a voice to speak. Challenge me today to step into the wilderness, into the uncomfortable. May I find you there. Amen.


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Matthew 3: 7-12

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

Many people were coming out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. It was your typical Sunday morning crowd this day in Matthew 3. Many came to hear John’s call to repentance and to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, symbolizing being made clean. Some came to support those making a choice to seek a new life. They had walked the narrow road since coming to see John themselves. Some came because they thought they should. Their minds were on a million other things and their hearts were even further from faith in God. But this day, some came to see the show. They would gather later, to ridicule it within the safety of their little circle.

This day the usual preaching and baptizing comes to a screeching halt as John yells out, “You brood of vipers”! I bet you could have heard a pin drop. He asks them who warned them to “flee from the coming wrath”? He is calling them out for coming to the river and then returning to their unrepentant lives later that afternoon. The Pharisees and Sadducees do not even think about stepping into the river. Why would they?

This would be like our communion stewards going to someone who remained in the pew instead of coming forward and being told, “No thanks. I’m good – haven’t sinned since I took communion last month”. We may be taken aback by such a thought, but there will be folks who move with the crowd, who take communion and just go through the motions. They will move through the line, they will take the bread and the juice, without ever searching their hearts, without ever seeking to repent of their sins. They will go through the motions planning on returning to life as it was.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. Live lives that look like you have repented of your sins. Live lives that look like you love God and neighbor more than you love yourself. Don’t just appear to love God and neighbor. Really love them in concrete and practical ways. Love God and neighbor in ways that make them feel loved by you.

John proclaims that one day Jesus will “gather his wheat into the barn”. Live lives worthy of being gathered into Jesus’ barn. Produce fruit that builds the kingdom of God both in your heart and in the hearts of others.

Prayer: Lord, show me today how to love you more and to love others more. Convict me when I fall short of what you call me to. Guide me by your Holy Spirit to be your love in the world today. 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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Share and Connect

Reading: Mark 6: 14-29

Verse 14: “King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known”.

Faith is all about our experiences and our connection to God, Jesus, and others. In today’s passage, the first part of the conversation connects Jesus to several other people or groups that were connected to God. In this way, we come to know more about Jesus.

First, Jesus is connected to John the Baptist. Herod and guests wonder if Jesus is John reborn because of the miracles that Jesus is performing. As we remember the stories of John’s and Jesus’ births, we recall that both were miraculous births. We also recall the angel’s visits and John’s recognition of Jesus while both were yet in the womb. In his ministry, John fearlessly spoke truth into people’s lives and called them to walk more holy lives. These things will become central to Jesus’ ministry as well.

Next, they wonder if Jesus is Elijah returned. Both men offer miracles as proof of connection to God and both men freely speak the word that God gives them to speak. Both men clash with those in power – calling them to be better followers of God and His ways. Elijah’s final moments on earth also foreshadow Jesus’ ascension into heaven as God lifts them up.

Lastly they compare Jesus to the “prophets of old”. The Old Testament prophets collectively connect well with Jesus. The prophets of old provided for the widow in need, withheld rain for a time, went up the mountain to speak to God, and called out those who worshiped idols and false gods. We see much of this in Jesus’ ministry. Care for the poor and the outcast were a high priority for Jesus. Calming the storm and walking on water demonstrated Jesus’ power over nature. His frequent trips up the mountain and to other isolated places to connect with God were important times of communication, renewal, and reassurance for Jesus. The conversations with religious leaders and everyday people were both opportunities to teach, to guide, and to correct – all to draw people closer to God. In many ways, Jesus connects to the prophets of old.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is the fuller revelation of God. It makes perfect sense that Jesus and His ministry would connect to others who served God and sought to build the kingdom here on earth. Our faith experiences also further the revelation of Jesus to the world. Through these connections and through our faith experiences we have much to share with others that can help them to connect with Jesus. May we be willing to share both who we know Jesus to be historically and personally, helping others to know Him as well. May it be so today. Amen and amen.


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Among Us

Reading: John 1: 1-6 and 19-28

Verse 26: “Among you stands one you do not know”.

John’s gospel begins in the beginning – literally – stating that Jesus was there at the beginning of it all.  Jesus is the creator, the giver of all life.  Jesus is the light that shines into the darkness.  Jesus has been present to mankind since the beginning of time.  For the Israelites, it feels almost that long that they have been waiting for the Messiah.  Their collective journey of faith has been long and winding, filled with ups and downs for a long time now.  And for a long time, hundreds of year now, they have been waiting for, longing for, anticipating the coming of the One.  It has been 400 years since the last prophet of God even spoke, so John the Baptist draws a crowd when he begins to preach and baptize out in the wilderness.

As a little buzz begins to grow around John, the religious leaders send out some investigators to find out just who John the Baptist really is.  It sort of sounds like he could be the One.  In response to the investigators initial question, John responds clearly, “I am not the Christ”.  For all real purposes, they quit listening.  But then they remember they were sent to find out, so they continue to ask who he is.  Okay then, who are you?  John tells them he is not Elijah returned or any other prophet that they know.  He simply tells them that he is the messenger that Isaiah prophesied.  John quotes from Isaiah 40, saying, “I am the voice of one calling out in the desert, ‘Make straight paths for the Lord'”.  Instead of hearing that the Messiah is about to emerge, they turn to other questioning, giving evidence that they did not really hear this answer either.  The religious leaders miss the point of why John is here.  It is not about John or what he is doing, it is about what is about to happen.  You’d think that for a people waiting hundreds of years for the Messiah, they’d be all over John’s news.

Many people are right here today, just where the religious leaders are.  They sense there must be more to life, they want more for their life, they sense the possibilities.  John says to the religious leaders, “Among you stands one you do not know”.  This remains true today.  Jesus is still right here, right now.  He stands among us.  May we, like John the Baptist, be the voices calling out in the wilderness today, helping others to know the One who stands among us, Jesus Christ.


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Testify to the Light

Reading: John 1: 1-8 and 19-21

Verse Eight: “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light”.

Today’s passage is about what is and what is not.  John begins by establishing just who Jesus is.  John draws on Genesis imagery to remind us that Jesus was there in the beginning and that He was with God.  He reminds us that all things were created through Jesus.  And, lastly, John reminds us that Jesus is the light that shines into the darkness.  This is an ongoing reality that many in the world struggle with today.

John’s Gospel then turns to John the Baptist and who he is.  John the Baptist is first a man sent by God.  He came as a witness to the coming of Jesus in the flesh.  Our passage defines John’s role this way: “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light”.  John the Baptist is not the light; he is the witness to call people to the Light or to Jesus.

Sometimes is is easier to describe or understand who we are not.  This is usually a much longer list than the one that attempts to define who we are.  As the priests and Levites that have been sent by the Pharisees begin to question who John the Baptist is, he begins with the most important who He is not: he is not the Christ (or the Messiah).  They press on.  No, he is not Elijah.  No, he is not the Prophet.  Despite telling them who he is, John the Baptist is still pressed for more detail.  He is the witness to the light that is coming into the world.

Who John the Baptist is should sound familiar to us because this is the role that we are called to play.  The Light himself spelled this out for us in the Great Commission: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  We too are called to testify to the light that has come into the world and that continues to shine into the darkness.  We are not John the Baptist and we are not Elijah ad we are not some other great prophet.  We are simply followers of Christ called to share the good news of what Jesus has done in our lives so that the Light can shine into other people’s darkness, helping them to begin to walk in the Light.


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Son of God

Reading: John 1: 29-34

John the Baptist operated from outside the traditional corridors of power.  He was not a Pharisee or a Sadducee or any other type of official religious person.  John lived a life of simplicity and sparsity.  He dressed very plainly, ate locusts and wild honey, and lived in the wilderness.  One day he simply showed up and started preaching about repentance and living according to God’s ways.  People soon came to see the deep connection John had with God that revealed itself in how he lived and in how he preached.  Many people came out to hear John.  Many were moved and were baptized in the waters of the Jordan, symbolizing cleansing and a commitment to more holy living.

By the time Jesus came by to be baptized, John had a lot of followers and had developed a lot of credibility from his preaching and lifestyle.  John was popular but had always claimed a lesser role since the beginning of his ministry.  When the Pharisees questioned who he was and what he was doing, he quoted from Isaiah, saying he was “preparing the way for the Lord”.  He went on to say he was unworthy to even untie the sandal of the Lord.  Even with droves of people coming to see him, to hear him, and to be baptized by him, John remained true to his calling.  Even though jealous religious authorities came to question him, he never claimed any credit or power.  John never lost focus on his ultimate mission.

So when Jesus approached, John declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”.  John testified about Jesus’ baptism, stating, “I saw the Holy Spirit come down from heaven” when he baptized Jesus and goes on to identify Jesus as the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  This section concludes with John’s testimony: “I testify that this is the Son of God”.

John was popular.  John was drawing a good crowd.  John knew his purpose: to point people to Jesus, to prepare the way.  John used his popularity and authority to declare who Jesus was.  John wanted them to know Jesus.  May we, like John, seek to reveal Jesus to those in our lives so that they too can come to know the Son of God, the Savior of the world.