pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Called to Respond

Reading: Matthew 2: 13-23

Verse 13: “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”.

Jesus is born in a humble setting and receives some humble visitors – the shepherds who had been visited by the angel. Some time passes and the Magi arrive. They are well-educated men from the east, coming to worship the newborn. Along their journey Herod becomes aware of the new ruler. Power and authority have entered the story. Herod pretends to want to worship the one born in Bethlehem.

The Magi are warned in a dream and avoid Herod on their return trip. Our passage today begins with Joseph having another dream. The angel tells him, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”. God is acting to get Joseph and family out ahead of the coming storm. Right then, during the night, Joseph wakes his family and they flee to Egypt. In a fury over being tricked by the Magi, Herod has all the boys two and under living in and around Bethlehem killed. He does not want this newborn king to disrupt his reign. In the aftermath, there is the “weeping and mourning” of mothers refusing to be comforted.

After Herod dies the family slips back into Israel, settling in small and out of the way Nazareth. Joseph still fears what the new ruler, Herod’s son, might do. Archelaus is part of the same institution that Herod was part of. The same tendency to look out for oneself is probably still quite strong. Sadly, this remains true of many institutions and of the people of power within these institutions. We see it alive and well in businesses, in government, and often in churches. People with power continue to exert their will because they believe their way is the right way or the only way. Those hurt, like the mothers weeping in Ramah, are not of their concern. Greed and pride and arrogance drive these types of decisions in business and government. In churches, to these we add confused religious certainty to the mix. Toxic environments are created for all but the holders of power. They were already there.

In the story of Jesus’ life, the escape to Egypt and the accompanying slaughter of innocents is one of the sadder and violent chapters. Jesus will go on to challenge some in power – particularly those in the religious institution – showing that power is not always right. This too is our call. We are called to respond to the injustices and wrongs that we see, shining God’s light and love into the darkness. In the light, injustices and wrongs and abuses of power will be revealed for what they are. May it ever be so as we work our way through building God’s kingdom here on earth!

Prayer: God of light, shine into the dark and broken parts of my life and my world. Lead me to stand for you and for what is right, regardless of the price. Strengthen me for the road ahead. Amen.


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Build the Kingdom

Reading: Isaiah 11: 6-10

Verse 10: “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the people; the nations will rally to him”.

Isaiah writes of a kingdom that seems hard to wrap our minds around. This vision of endless peace is difficult to contemplate in our day and age. Verses six through eight are filled with images that are very unlike the relationships that exist today. Wolves do not live with lambs; cows do not feed alongside bears. We shudder at the image of a child putting its hand into the den of poisonous snakes. What if this vision of harmony and peace were a metaphor for what God’s kingdom could look like today? What would this kind of world look like today?

We do catch a glimpse of it now and then. When the families of the children slain at school went and offered forgiveness and mercy to the shooter and his family, we saw a glimpse. When the concentration camp survivor hugged and offered grace to the camp guard, we caught a glimpse. It remains fully possible for the power of God to break in even in this day and age. That is part of what Advent is all about. As we live into and practice peace, hope, love, and joy we are drawn closer to the vision laid out in Isaiah 11. In verse ten we read, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the people; the nations will rally to him”. Right now we await this day. The kingdom described here has not yet been fulfilled. We live in the “not yet”. It is a time of building, a time of drawing nearer to its culmination.

The question for us is this: what role will we play? Will we be but observers? Or will we have an active role in the building of the kingdom? If we are to be builders we must actively engage those we see as wolves and lions and bears and vipers. If we want to build the kingdom of peace, hope, love, and joy, we must be examples of these things in the darkness of the world. What barriers must we cross? What risks must we take? Are we willing to step bravely forth with God’s peace, hope, love, and joy? May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, reveal to me the darkness into which you are calling me to bring light. Encourage me and fill me with your Spirit to go where you want to send me. May I be your peace, hope, love, and joy today. Amen.


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A Radical Change

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 27-34

Verse 27: “The days are coming when I will replant the house of Israel and the house of Judah”.

Change is on the horizon! Last week, in Jeremiah 29, God encouraged the people to build and to marry, to redeem their situation in Babylon, to shine light and love into this sinful place. In today’s reading we begin to hear God’s promise to restore the chosen people. In the opening verse we read, “The days are coming when I will replant the house of Israel and the house of Judah”. God will replant what was uprooted. God will rebuild what was torn down. God promises to “watch over them to build and to plant”. The exiles must have received these words from Jeremiah with great hope and excitement.

Along with the restoration and relocation back to the Promised Land, there is also a change coming in the people’s relationship with God. No longer will a parent’s (or grandparent’s or great grandparent’s) sin affect the children (or children’s children…). In verse 30 we read, “Instead, everyone will die for his own sin”. In the day to day life, death means separation from God. When on is living in sin or with sin in their heart, the relationship with God is broken. Through the new covenant that God is bringing through Jesus Christ, sins will be forgiven. Through personal confession and repentance our sins will be washed away. In the eternal sense, if one chooses to live in sin and refuses to turn back to God, death refers to an eternity in hell.

Through Jeremiah, God is forshadowing a pretty radical change in Jewish thinking and theology. The idea that disease and illness and blindness and… are the result of sin somewhere in the family tree is deeply rooted in their faith. Jesus will challenge this line of thought. Change will be hard. Some will refuse to accept this shift. Jesus offers insight through his actions. He will touch the leper and the deaf, the mute and the crippled, the outcast and the sinner. His touch indicates love and acceptance, not fear and exclusion. Change is indeed on the horizon!

Prayer: God, thank you for your continuing evolution of our relationship with you. Through Jesus you became more personal, more intimate, more fully known. With the Holy Spirit you moved further into our hearts. Continue to draw me more and more into who and what you are! Amen.


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Welcome and Hospitality

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

Verses 5 and 6: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”.

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles invites them to become a part of the society that they have been forced into. It can be the tendency to try and remain isolated and to hold onto what makes one unique. Thinking back to the high point of immigration in the US, for example, cities had ethnic neighborhoods like Little Italy and Chinatown. In some cases whole towns had a mostly homogeneous ethnic make-up. In our passage today, God is encouraging the Israelites to become a part of where they are. They are instructed to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”. They are to live with and amongst their new neighbors.

Today we have both immigrants and refugees that come to the US. The refugees are most like the exiles because these groups tend to arrive in significant numbers. There are often language barriers and usually social and cultural differences as well. These factors tend to isolate us from our new neighbors and vice versa. But they do not have to. A little north and east of the town I live in is a town that welcomes refugees and immigrants. The school system works hard to help the children and the community provides employment opportunities for the adults. Churches play a role in the acclimation process in a number of ways. The Latino and Hmong people have enriched and have helped the whole community to thrive. They are not without instances of prejudice and intolerance, but overall it is a successful experiment. They are modeling well Jesus’ example of loving the other.

In almost all of our communities we have new people move in. In my town they usually come from another town in or near South Dakota, but occasionally they are from further abroad. In these cases, we too should extend welcome and hospitality to them. We as Christians should do what we can to help them succeed and flourish because when they prosper, we prosper too – not just economically but socially and spiritually as well.

As individuals, as churches, and as communities, may we be people of love, extending radical hospitality to all we meet. In doing so we also extend God’s love.

Prayer: Father of all, help me to be a friend to all. Empower me to love others unconditionally, just as you love me. Create in me generous hands and feet and a giving heart, just as Jesus modeled for us. Thank you, Father God. Amen.


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Rooted, Built Up, Established

Reading: Colossians 2: 6-19

Verse 6: “You therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him”.

In our passage from Colossians, Paul reminds the church that they are to look to Christ for all they need. In the opening verse Paul reminds them that they are “rooted and built up… established in the faith”. After the first of two brief warnings against the philosophies and teachings of the world, Paul goes on to unpack verse 6.

Paul describes what it means to be established in Jesus Christ. He first speaks about a “circumcision made without hands”. This is the process of dying to self, of surrendering one’s own will to God’s will. Paul then reminds them that they are “buried with him in baptism”. This ties into the idea of dying to self, when one is immersed in the water, and also into the idea of being made into a new creation in Christ when one rises from the waters. Just as Christ rose from the grave to new life, so too will the Colossian Christians and so too will we one day triumph over the world.

Paul uses two interesting words to describe a life lived in Jesus Christ. The first is “rooted”. Paul is using a tree analogy here. A tree is only as strong as its roots. A pine tree, for example, has a shallow root system. The roots do not go down very deep into the soil. In the wind, a pine will sway back and forth. In a really strong wind, a pine tree can be uprooted and toppled over. Trees like oaks, on the other hand, have deep root systems. Their branches and leaves sway in the breeze, but the trunks are solidly rooted deep in the soil. They can withstand a much greater wind. Our faith parallels this idea. If we have a shallow faith it sways more easily – it is more easily influenced by the cares and worries of the world. Temptations and trials and sufferings in life can overwhelm our faith if it is not firmly and deeply rooted in Christ.

Paul also uses a building analogy that is equally applicable. A building is only as sure and secure as its foundation. We must build our faith upon a solid foundation. Jesus Christ is the only sure foundation. When all we do and say and think is built upon Jesus’ teachings and example, then we have a solid base to stand upon and to build upon. Then we are able to “hold fast to the head”, Jesus Christ. May our faith be deeply rooted and solidly built upon Christ. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to be rooted and established in Christ. Help me to invest time and energy to sink deep roots into Jesus Christ so that he will always nourish my soul. Make Jesus my firm foundation, my rock. In his name I pray. Amen.


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Poured Into Us

Reading: Romans 5: 3-5

Verse 5: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul begins our passage today by stating that we rejoice in our suffering. Taken by itself many would question this statement. For those outside the faith it sounds a bit crazy. Why would anyone rejoice in suffering? After the fact one can often look back on an experience and see that they did grow or did learn something. Even so, most folks would rather learn or grow in a way that did not involve suffering.

Paul bases his statement on a believer’s hope and faith. When a believer knows God’s presence in the midst of suffering, there is a strength that one finds. When a believer holds onto hope because of a trust in God’s plan, then there is a power that is present. Here Paul is connecting back to verses 1 and 2. God’s strength and power in us is what leads to perseverance. When God has been present in our suffering, we trust that God will be there again and again, building our ability to persevere. This, in turn, builds our character – we gain confidence in God and in God’s plans. We can trust God through the suffering.

Running in and through this all is one common thread: God’s love. It is a love that wants to be there, to be present, to carry us at times. In verse 5 Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. Because we have God’s presence in us through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a faith and hope that is rooted deeply in us, that is always there to draw upon. God’s love is a part of us. For this, we rejoice and praise the Lord our God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your constant and abiding presence in my life. Continue to lead and guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.