pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Loving God and Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 11: 16-19

Verse 18: “John came neither eating or drinking… The Son of Man came eating and drinking”.

Today’s passage from Matthew is part of Jesus’ response to John the Baptist asking if Jesus really is the one to come, “or should we expect someone else”? John is in prison for speaking the truth against the political leader. From prison he sees Jesus’ ministry as much different than his own. John had gone into the wilderness, away from the trappings of the world. There he lived a very pious life as he called people to repentance in preparation for the coming Messiah. He baptized people into a renewed walk with God. The religious came to John to find faith once again. John baptized Jesus himself and heard God declare Jesus his beloved Son. And now, as he sees Jesus doing ministry in a different way, he questions if Jesus is the one.

Today, one way we demonstrate our love of God is by gathering for worship. Another way we demonstrate our love of God is by serving others through the sharing of our time, our resources, and of ourselves. Although in a place without walls, John had a specific place where he ministered. To see and hear John preach and to be baptized, one went to John. To him, his life of simplicity and piety modeled a faithful relationship with God. In these ways, John was much like the Pharisees and other religious leaders. Yet John clashed with them because he saw that they loved the law more than they loved God. But like John, they said come to the temple, follow our rules, be like us. Neither John nor the religious leaders had much understanding of Jesus’ forms of ministry. He was radically different.

Jesus went to the sinners and tax collectors and other outsiders. He sought them out and then he sat and ate with them, forming relationships. The religious accused Jesus of touching and eating with the unclean and the impure. They saw him fellowshipping with them and labeled him a “glutton and a drunkard“. Jesus chose to get outside the established walls of the temple and synagogues – to go to the people who would not enter these places. He went to those who felt unwelcomed, to those who felt unworthy, to those who were outcasts and who were marginalized. Jesus often went to the non-religious so that they too could live a life of faith. Why? To demonstrate that all people are worthy of God’s love, to show that all people are welcome in God’s family.

As Christians we are called to love God and to bring him our praise and worship as we lift his name on high. As Christians we are called to love neighbor as we minister to them in Jesus’ name. This also lifts his name on high. May we always seek to do both. Faith is not an either/or. As we love God and neighbor, we are living out our gospel imperative to transform the world. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, may my faith and love be clear to you and to the world. May my thoughts, words, and actions bring you the praise and glory. Amen.


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The Light Remains

Reading: Matthew 4: 12-17

Verse 17: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”.

Our passage begins with some news that signals a transition. Two events have already occurred to facilitate this transition. As the voice in the desert continues to preach a baptism of repentance, Jesus is baptized and then spends his time in the wilderness. Both of these events were preparing him to begin his public ministry. As John the Baptist is arrested, there is now space for the one to whom John always pointed. What was is passing on and the new is taking its place.

To begin his ministry, Jesus moves to Galilee, to a town that would be his base for ministry. Capernaum is located on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. This location is a bit removed from Jerusalem and the southern half of Israel. It is adjacent to Samaria. At times it will be a place of refuge for Jesus and his disciples. But as his ministry begins, Jesus announces a different reason for being there. It is according to God’s plan. Quoting from a prophet that spoke 700 years prior, Jesus announces that he has come to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: he is the light that shines into the darkness.

Just as John had done, Jesus picks up the call to follow God and to walk in his ways. Jesus’ initial theme echoes John’s message. Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. The focus is now fully on Jesus as the light begins to shine out into the world. In him, the kingdom has drawn near. The Messiah, the Christ has come. The Good Shepherd has arrived to tend the flock of lost sheep.

The light remains with us, continuing to shine light into the darkness in our lives and in the world. Jesus remains present, healing and restoring the broken, reaching out to the lost, guiding us as we walk the narrow way. The Christ, the light, is here. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my light in the darkness, my hope in times of despair. Thank you for your abiding presence and gentle guidance. Thank you for pulling me back when I drift, for redeeming me when I slip. Ever be my light! Amen.


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Come and See

Reading: John 1: 29-42

Verse 32: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him”.

John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the “lamb of God” – interpreting this as the one who will take away the sins of the world. After recognizing Jesus’ eternal nature, he also identifies his own purpose in baptizing with water: that Jesus “might be revealed to Israel”. Through the baptism of repentance that John was offering, hearts were prepared to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Then John gives this testimony about when he baptized Jesus: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him”. John the Baptist had been told by God that this would be the sign that reveals the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. He then plainly states, “This is the Son of God”.

The next day John again identifies Jesus as the lamb of God. This prompts two of John’s disciples to leave him to follow Jesus. After a quick exchange, Jesus invites them to “come and see”. One of the two gets his brother. Andrew is convinced that Jesus is the Messiah. He gets Simon Peter and he too starts to follow Jesus.

This point of entry into a relationship with Jesus is the same for all who follow. We hear of him, perhaps from a friend, perhaps from reading the Bible, maybe from church or Sunday school. We are drawn in to know him more and more, one day realizing that Jesus is the Savior – the lamb sent to take away not only the sins of the world but our sins too. Like those that came to see John the Baptist, we bow and humbly confess our sins and, repenting of them, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus becomes a living presence within us, becoming a part of our everyday life. From then on we strive to follow the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

We also become a bit like Andrew in the process, telling others that we have found the Messiah, inviting them to meet him as well. When we first do, Jesus begins to invite them to “come and see” – see what life in Jesus looks like. As we live out each day, may we continue to come and see Jesus, knowing him more and more, extending the invitation to others as we help to build the kingdom here on earth. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Father God, as I seek to come and see, reveal yourself to me in a new way. Open my eyes in a new way, drawing me ever deeper into your love. Amen.


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Marked Beloved

Reading: Matthew 3: 13-17

Verse 16: “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”.

John the Baptist has been in the wilderness, baptizing people in the Jordan River. He offers a baptism of repentance, helping people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. People confess their sins and commit to walking “straight paths”. This walk yields the “fruit in keeping with repentance” that John references. In our passage today, Jesus comes to be baptized. John has just finished explaining how he baptizes with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. That is why John says in today’s text, “I need to be baptized by you”. Never mind that Jesus is without sin and does not “need” a baptism of repentance!

Jesus insists and John acquiesces, baptizing Jesus. Validation comes. In verse sixteen we read, “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”. Jesus’ baptism is a sign that he is ready to begin to live a new life of obedience to God’s will and ways. It is a step to beginning his formal ministry. The voice of God responds with words of identification as God’s Son, the beloved. From this initial step, Jesus is led out into the wilderness for forty days. There Jesus is tempted by Satan.

Baptism today incorporates much of what we read in John 3. Many believe baptism is the “right” thing to do as one enters the Christian life. Water is still the medium and it still represents the cleansing of sin and the commitment to die to the old earthly self. One moves forward dedicated to walking out a life of faith. The Holy Spirit is a vital part of baptism today – it is what “lights” upon us as the seal of being marked as a son or daughter of God. The Holy Spirit enters the life of the baptized, much as it did when Jesus was baptized. Through baptism one is marked as a beloved member of the community of faith. After baptism one enters the world, prepared to daily battle with temptation and sin.

As we enter the world today may we remember our baptism and our place as beloved in the family of God. Be strengthened and encouraged today, for you are loved!

Prayer: God of all the beloved children, be present to me today as I enter the world. Lead and guide my words and actions. Keep me from temptation. Thank you for your love and acceptance. Amen.


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The Long Run

Reading: Matthew 11: 2-11

Verse 2: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else”?

John the Baptist is in prison. His earthly ministry has come to an end. During his time in the wilderness he called many to a baptism of repentance. They heard John’s powerful message and emerged from the waters committed to living a devout faith in order to be prepared for the coming Messiah. During this time, Jesus himself came and was baptized by John. God spoke words of blessing over the one John himself called the “lamb of God”. Yet, in today’s passage, John sends some followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else”? What could lead John to question who Jesus was?

Because he was a prophet and because he was so closely connected to God, in those moments in the wilderness, John sensed who Jesus was and identified him as the Messiah. Now John sits in prison. He is being punished because one in power did not like hearing the truth. The Romans remain in control. When is the Messiah going to do something about all this? When is the Messiah going to rise up and lead Israel back to greatness? John is allowing his present circumstances and his worldly longings to affect how he sees and understands Jesus. We can do this as well. We can allow our hard circumstances and the pressures of the world to affect our relationship with and our faith in Christ. We too can become disoriented and can question or doubt our faith.

Jesus’ response is two-fold. The first part reminds John (and us) of what Jesus’ real purpose and mission was and is. Jesus came to bring healing and hope to a broken world. John himself had challenged the religious leaders to “produce fruit”. In Luke’s gospel John defines this as giving to those in need, as caring for others… Jesus is reminding John that his kingdom is not about being powerful in the worldly sense. The second reminder is to John the person. Jesus declares that John fulfilled his divine role in calling or pointing people towards Jesus. Jesus declares John the greatest prophet. Jesus is assuring John that his life does not amount to his current situation. He is reminding John that what truly matters, in the long run, is the faithful service that John gave to his Lord and Savior. Even the last line of our passage today points to this reality: all in heaven will be greater than their earthly self. Hold onto hope John, the best is yet to come. This too is our truth. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am having my John the Baptist moments, feeling sorry for myself or questioning why I am where I am, remind me as you did John. Help me to be light and love in the dark places and ever remind me of the end of the real story. Thank you. Amen.


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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.