pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Jesus’ Baptisms

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 & 21-22

Verse 16: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”.

Our passage today begins with John the Baptist. He is preaching a baptism of repentance out in the wilderness. There is a certain wildness, an unknown edge to John. His clothing, his lifestyle, the way he challenges both scare and attract us. He calls for and leads people to radical change in their lives. This too attracts and yet scares us. We are drawn to find and live into a better version of ourselves. But at the same time, change is hard and requires us to step into the new and unknown.

John is pointing beyond himself to Jesus. John’s role was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. John speaks of Jesus, saying, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. John’s baptism of water was more a cleansing of sins and a commitment to walk a better faith. But Jesus’ baptism will be different. There is a winnowing fork in Jesus’ hand. This is used to separate the good from the bad, the useful from the unusable. The action of conviction and repentance is taken from our hands and placed into His hands. The baptism of the Holy Spirit leads to a new source of power within us. The Holy Spirit does not rationalize or try and look past sin like we might perhaps try to do.

There is also a gathering up and a burning aspect to today’s Word from John. The good, the useful for the kingdom, will be gathered up into Jesus’ barn – into heaven. The bad, the unusable, the evil, will be burned with an unquenchable fire. It will not be pleasant. This is the fire that Jesus Christ will bring. It is not necessarily anyone’s destiny. Yet some will choose it. Judgment will come to us all. May we each sense the voice of Jesus in the Holy Spirit’s voice, allowing it to guide and lead us to all righteousness. May we daily live a life that honors and brings glory to the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Prayer: O Jesus, may your Holy Spirit ever be present and loud and clear in my life. Guide me to walk in your ways, always seeking to bring you the glory and praise. 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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Offering

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”.

The book from the prophet Malachi closes the Old Testament. Like many other Old Testament prophets, Malachi’s words connect to Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Chapter 3 opens with God letting Malachi and all of Israel know that God will send “my messenger”. This messenger will “prepare the way before me”. Malachi is prophesying John the Baptist. As we work through the other readings this week, we will flesh out the story as we learn that John will indeed prepare the way for the coming of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Malachi goes on to write, “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come”. As John preaches repentance out in the wilderness, Jesus will come to be baptized. The Spirit of God will descend on Jesus, marking the beginning of His ministry. Jesus will be the “messenger of the covenant”. The new covenant will be written on the cross, where Jesus will die for our sins. This new covenant changes everything – both now and eternally. It frees us from the guilt and shame of our sins as the blood washes them away. It makes a way for us to be saved to eternal life as we are made new again. There is a lot in verse 1: repentance, forgiveness, salvation, life.

Then, in verse 2, there is a shift, a reality check. Malachi writes, “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”. No, Jesus is not all peace and love and flowers. One does not have to spend too much time in the Gospels to discover that there is a cost to discipleship and to find that the road is narrow. When Jesus tells us that we must die to self and take up our cross daily, we find a cost. When Jesus redefines our priorities by telling us that we must first love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and then we must next love our neighbors as Jesus first loved us, then we find the road is narrow and is hard to walk at times.

If we are really following Jesus, we find that the Refiner calls us to die to self over and over and over. Sin after sin falls away as Jesus refines us. Our life gradually becomes the “offering given in righteousness”. May it be so for me and for you.

Prayer: God, take me as I am today and refine me to be more like you. Strip my pride and selfishness and judging – all that leads me to think I am more, making you less. Reverse that O God – help me to die to self so that I may be less so that Jesus is more. Amen.


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Always Comes Through

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse 1: “When the Lord brought back the captives… we were like men who dreamed”.

Today’s Psalm is a song of ascent. It would have been sung as the people were heading to worship. Our Psalm today is both one of remembrance and one of longing. Verse 1 remembers: “When the Lord brought back the captives… we were like men who dreamed”. The people were blessed to return to Jerusalem from captivity. God kept them safe and provided for them. The people dreamed about restoring the temple and the city. It was a time when God was surely present. We too all have times that we can look back to and see when God led us out of the valley or through the darkness.

Then, in verse 4, there is a transition. The author writes, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord”. Life has been a struggle. Things have not gone well lately. Maybe there has been a drought and ensuing famine. Maybe those around them have been more hostile than usual. There is weeping and sorrow in the land. We too have been here – in a season or time when we felt hard-pressed, when we felt that God has forgotten about us.

Yet in our Psalm the people still look to God. Even in the hard time. The people still trust that God will restore them. Even when hope begins to dim. They look to God in faith. They know that God will never abandon them. In faith, we too trust that God will never abandon us. God is always faithful and true.

In one of my daily devotions, the author spoke of our God “who may not come when we want but always comes on time”. It was a wonderful reminder. Sometimes we do have to wait a bit, but God always comes through. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, help me to always trust in you. Give me your patience when mine runs thin. Give me the faith of the psalmist when my faith teeters. Thank you for the many experiences of your restoration and grace in my life. May I remember them in my times of need, gaining assurance that you are always on the way. Amen.


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Daily, Daily, Ever, Ever

Reading: Hebrews 9: 24-28

Verse 28: “He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him”.

Living day to day can be hard. At times, life can throw challenges and trials at us. To walk faithfully with God is not always easy – especially in the days that test us and our faith. Jesus walked through some of those days when He lived as a human. He wept for Lazarus and empathized with his sisters, Mary and Martha. Jesus felt the pain of rejection and abandonment when Peter denied knowing Him. We have lots of stories of Jesus entering the pain and sin of people’s lives when He walked with them, understood their stories, and offered hope, healing, a new start. We have a Savior who knows what the challenges and trials feel like. And He wants to walk with us daily.

We are human and our tendency is toward the things of the flesh – to that which brings easy gratification and quick pleasure. In this sense we are like a microwave – quick, now, low effort, easy. Jesus invites us to more, to better, to slower, to harder. To accept Jesus and to follow Him affects us both in the present and in the eternal. Choices in the present affect the eternal. Our passage reminds us that we are “destined to die, and after that face judgment”. One day all – Christians and non-Christians alike – will give an account of our life.

Our account is not a scorecard. The Christian life is not one of simply doing more good than bad. It is a life lived for Christ. It is a life that meets Him daily in prayer and meditation. It is a life that loves neighbor as self, following Jesus’ example of being a humble servant. It is a life that rejoices with Jesus in life’s ups and clings to Him in the downs. It is a life that rests upon faith daily, trusting in and knowing this eternal truth: “He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him”. Daily, daily, all for Jesus. Ever, ever, dwell with Thee. May it be so.

O Jesus, my Savior and Lord – be these things today, every day. Each day be the Lord of my life. Daily, may I surrender. Each day and every day, be my Savior – cleansing, forgiving, making me new. All for Jesus, I surrender; daily for Him, I shall live. Amen.


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Walking with God

Reading: Mark 10: 23-27

Verse 24: “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God”.

Today we continue in the aftermath of the young man walking away sad. Remember, a part of him ran to Jesus to find out how he could inherit eternal life. Probably as he can still be seen walking away, Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven”. We can be rich in many things and in many ways. For example, an abundance of pride can be a great barrier to the kingdom. Looked at another way, in America we are all rich when compared to most people around the world. In this instance Jesus is talking about material wealth. This is a topic that Jesus teaches on frequently. Wealth or possessions often are people’s idols, over and above their faith in God. Money or wealth isn’t our only idols. To this point, Jesus perhaps turns the situation more general, saying, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God”. It is indeed hard. The road is narrow and the choices are challenging; there is a cost to discipleship.

Our pursuit of God is unlike our pursuit of money or status or popularity or anything else. With all the idols that we can pursue, the pursuit is intermittent. For example, we can work really hard for a time for that title that brings the recognition that we desire. Once we attain that, it only requires periodic maintenance. But in our relationship with God, our pursuit of God must be 24-7. We cannot take take away from being in a relationship with God to live as a person of the world for a time. God must be our sole focus, our sole purpose in life. The well-known ‘What would Jesus do?’ (WWJD) question must be our filter for all decisions, situations, and experiences.

To pursue God 24-7 is difficult. The disciples were literslky with Jesus all the time yet knew struggle. They ask Jesus, “Who then can be saved”? It is a legitimate question. On our own we cannot be saved. Salvation is not about what we do. It is all about what Jesus had already done. Just as on our own we cannot be saved, on our own we cannot pursue God 24-7. There is hope though. Jesus speaks our hope today: “All things are possible with God”. With God we can do all things. If we are in a personal relationship with God, we can walk with God 24-7 because God is pursuing us too. God’s voice whispers out when we need a reminder, His Spirit prompts us when we need a nudge or a redirect. Walking with God all things are indeed possible. May we each walk with God today and every day.

Lord, I love you and want to walk with you always. In those moments when I am weak, I know you will be strong. Thank you Lord! Amen.


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Fill My Heart

Reading: Mark 10: 2-12

Verse 5: “It was because your hearts were hard…”.

The Pharisees come to test Jesus with a question. Instead of just answering, He asks them what they think – “What did Moses command you”? He asks to begin a conversation. An answer would close the topic and perhaps the conversation. Jesus does not talk much about the legality of divorce but instead about the underlying issue that leads to the question. Jesus does affirm God’s commands from Genesis and adds, “Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate”. For Jesus, marriage should be a lifelong covenant relationship.

To the Pharisees answer Jesus initially says, “It was because your hearts were hard…”. In essence, Jesus was acknowledging that at times things happen because our hearts are hard. In this particular case Jesus is speaking to divorce but this thought applies to much more. If we were to use “because your heart was hard…” as a sentence starter, we could add many, many things.

So, what is the opposite of a hard heart? The obvious choice would be a soft heart. Instead of having a hard heart filled with anger, pride, jealousy… what would life be like if we had a heart filled with love and generosity and compassion? Instead of having a heart filled with the things of this world, what would it look like to have a heart filled with the things of God? It would look good. May it be so for you and for me.

Loving God, fill me with your love for the other. Giving God, fill me with your generous spirit. Compassionate God, give me eyes to see the needs and a heart to meet them. Fill my heart with you, O God. Amen.