pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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focus

Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

Verse 36: “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”.

Advent begins this Sunday. It is a season of anticipation and expectation. It reminds us that we live in a now-not-yet space. Last week’s passage from Revelation reminded us that Jesus “was, is, and is to come”. This connects to our passage today and is a great pre-Advent thought. The Latin word that we derive “Advent” from is itself derived from the Greek word “parousia” – a term commonly used to describe the second coming of Jesus. Our passage today opens with signs that will proceed Jesus “coming in a cloud with power and great glory”. We are encouraged to “stand up and lift your heads” as we await His return. We are encouraged to stand up and declare our faith – to wish people a joyous “Merry Christmas” (instead of the secular “Happy Holidays”) and to focus ourselves and others on Jesus Christ during Advent.

Jesus uses the illustration of the fig tree to keep us focused and looking up and forward. Just as the buds indicate summer is near, we are to look for signs of the kingdom near us. Where can we see hope and love lived out this week? Where can we experience mercy and grace and forgiveness this week? Where can we be signs of the nearness of God’s kingdom, bringing hope and love, mercy and grace and forgiveness to other’s lives this week?

Our passage today closes with another good reminder. It ties back into the “stand up” idea. Maybe Jesus knew what Christmas would become. He warns us to be careful lest we become”weighed down” and filled with anxiety. As a parent I can remember times when I was weighed down and filled with anxiety over the gifts and reactions to them. It can be easy to go there. When our focus shifts away from God and His kingdom, then yes, the day will close upon us “like a trap”.

Instead, Jesus encourages us to “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”. Jesus must ever be our focus during the Advent season. Our eyes and heart must remain fixed on the Son of Man. Our lives will reveal what is truly in our heart and soul this Advent season. May Jesus Christ be what people experience in and through us.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to focus in on you alone this Advent season. Keep my eyes and heart on you and the coming of your kingdom. May my life reveal your Son as the focus of Advent and of Christmas. Amen.


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The King

Reading: John 18: 33-37

Verse 36: “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world'”.

Today is the last Sunday in the Christian calendar. Advent begins next week. Today’s passage speaks of Jesus as king. This Sunday is known in many denominations as “Reign of Christ Sunday”. This morning I read about the history of this special day.

In the 1920s, nationalism was on the rise again. Europe was recovering from World War I and a “narrow nationalism” was on the rise. To both combat this and to recognize and affirm the place of Christ, Pope Pius XI decided to use the last Sunday of the Christian year to honor the reign of Christ. The aim is to declare that, as Christians, our primary loyalty belongs to Jesus Christ.

When Jesus ended up before a political ruler, Pilate did not know quite what to do with Him. Pilate could only understand Jesus and n political terms. As Pilate questioned Jesus, He said, “My kingdom is not of this world”. Yes, Jesus is a king but not in earthly terms. Yes, Jesus does have a kingdom but it is not defined by geographical or political boundaries. Its strength is not based upon the land mass or size of the armies. Jesus’ kingdom derives its power from love.

Today, may we each take a moment to recognize Jesus as the king of both heaven and earth. In our own hearts may we acknowledge Jesus as Lord. In the world, may we live to bring glory and honor to the one true King.

Prayer: Lord, I invite you to be the King of my heart. Rule in me and through me. Amen.


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King

Reading: Psalm 132

Verses 3 and 5: “I will not enter my house or go to my bed – till I find a place for the Lord”.

David proclaims that he will not stop until he finds a place for God to dwell. He will not go home or to bed until he finds a place for God. David is operating under the assumption that God will dwell in a building. While God did reside the in the tabernacle or temple for a while, in general God is not found in one place.

When we speak of finding a place for God today, it is referring to a place in our hearts. There, in our heart, Jesus prefers to sit on the throne. I think that is where we want Jesus to be too. Yet we can sure struggle at times living with Jesus as the real Lord of our life. We find all sorts of idols to chase after and, in doing so, give them priority in our lives. Jesus is often dethroned while we pursue wealth or popularity or titles or other bright, shiny objects.

I am drawn to the “where would I be…” questions. Where would I be without that new car? Still driving that reliable older car. Where would I be without that extra $500 I worked so hard for? Still living a comfortable life. Where would I be without that title that took so much effort to attain? Still happily serving my church.

But then I get to question: where would I be without Jesus? I do not want to think about the answers to that question. It is then that I realize just how much I need Jesus to be the Lord of my life, to ever sit on the throne. How about you?

Prayer: Lord, you are all that really matters in my life. Be the king of my heart each and every day. I ask this humbly and knowing that I need you desperately. Jesus, be my king. Amen.


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Covenant Promise

Reading: 2nd Samuel 23: 1-5

Verse 5: “Has He not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part”?

In this remembering of David’s last words, the writer of 2nd Samuel begins by recalling who David was in God’s eyes: exalted by God and anointed by God. David had a special relationship with God. He was not without faults or seasons of sin in his life, but overall David was “a man after God’s own heart”. We, like David, are not perfect. Yet when our time comes, do we not wish to be known as a man or woman who loved all our lives as one “after God’s own heart”?

God was an integral part of David’s life. The importance of his relationship is evident at many points in David’s life. For example, in slaying Goliath, David fully trusted in God in spite if the apparent odds stacked against him. But I do believe that the greatest example comes in the aftermath of the Bathsheba incident. The depth of emotion David feels and expresses when he realizes what he has done reveals how much he truly loved God.

David has learned the value of being a king that follows God’s ways. He has learned the value of ruling with righteousness. He clings to the covenant promise, hoping his sons… will do the same. As David nears his end, he rhetorically asks, “Is my house not right with God”? It is more of a sure confession than a question. David is confident in his relationship with God. He goes on to ask, “Has He not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part”? Again, this is more of a statement than a question. Yes, the Lord his God has made the covenant and He will uphold it. David’s life is secure.

Fast forward to our lives. We too live under the covenant. God has promised to be our God, to love us as His children. David’s heir, Jesus Christ, also established a covenant with us, His brothers and sisters. Through His blood the covenant of grace releases us from the power of sin and death. When we confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior, our future is arranged and secured. Through our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, this covenant assures us of eternal life. We too live under a covenant promise. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for the faithful witness of David. But even more so, thank you for the promise of life with you, both now and forevermore. Amen.


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Engagement

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 16: “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief”.

Hannah is in a tough spot. She is barren in a culture that places high value on producing children. This is the main purpose of marriage. Her husband clearly prefers Hannah, his first wife, but that relationship remains intact largely because his second wife has produced the all-important offspring. Without any children of her own, Hannah is vulnerable. She would be all alone if Elkanah died or if he decided that Hannah was displeasing as a wife. Hannah’s shame over being barren would have also extended to the community. She would have been looked down upon and usually found herself outside of the circles of women who would gather periodically.

Year after year Hannah has endured Peninnah’s provocations and the cultural shame of being childless. Her situation is no fault of her own. Nearing the point of breaking, she finds herself in the temple. She pours out her heart to God. Instead of seeing a woman deep in pain and in need of comforting, Eli the priest assumes she is drunk. Eli makes a quick assumption. How often we do the same.

We see a person who appears to be homeless and we jump to conclusions about their work ethic or their problems with drugs or alcohol. We see a young mom struggling with her kids in line at the grocery store and we assume things about her parenting skills… These are just two examples of the countless ways that we judge, infer, misread, oversimplify, stereotype… people. As was the case with Eli, often we are wrong. We do not know the person or their real situation or the many circumstances leading up to that moment. But unlike Eli, we usually do not take the time to talk with them, to get to know them, to hear their story. At least Eli did that for Hannah.

When we, like Eli, jump to conclusions, when we quickly label, when we make assumptions, may we pull ourselves up short, take a breath, and connect with that person we have sinned against. May we choose to risk engagement, trusting in the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Prayer: Jehovah, give me eyes to see as you see. Move me past first impressions and on to honest conversations. Soften my heart to love others as you love them. In doing so, allow me to see you in them and they to see you in me. Amen.


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Let Us…

Reading: Hebrews 10: 19-25

Verse 21: “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God…”

Jesus opened the way for us – “a new and living way” – to enter into God’s presence. No longer is access limited to the one person chosen by lot to enter on everyone else’s behalf. “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God…” All who call on Jesus Christ as Lord can enter into God’s presence through Jesus.

In today’s reading there are four “Let us…” statements that are responses to the access provided by Jesus, our great high priest. They begin with “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart”. With an assurance that we are cleansed from our sins, we draw close to God. The second is “let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess”. We hold fast because God, the one who made the promise, is always faithful. The covenant to be our God and to always love us is neverending. We hold fast to our faith because we have the promise of God’s presence and love.

The third statement is “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”. We begin by loving each other as Jesus first loved us. In this model, we will be people who go out and love others. Our good deeds are the vehicle to express that love. The fourth statement goes along with the third. “Let us encourage one another”. We do so by meeting together regularly – not just for Sunday morning worship but also for Bible study and prayer, for food and fellowship, and one on one to mentor and support.

These four statements are great reminders to us that we are in this together. They were given to a people living under pressure in an increasingly pagan world. This sounds familiar. In our post-Christian world, this day and each day may we cling to these “Let us…” statements. Amen.

Prayer: Lord God, today remind me of your promises and your love. Lead me to draw close in true faith, assured of your love. Help me to meet with and to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ so that we may encourage one another to be your hands and feet, your salt and light in a lost and hurting world. May it be so this day and every day. Amen.