pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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For Others

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse Three: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty… oil of gladness… a garment of praise…”

The opening lines to Isaiah 61 are a clear call to love all of our neighbors.  These are the words that Jesus read after He came out of the time of testing in the wilderness.  As He stood in the temple, these words from Isaiah 61:1-2 were used as the announcement for what He had come to do.  As Jesus’ ministry unfolds, it becomes clear that these things are what His disciples and all who will follow Him are called to do as well.  There is much joy in proclaiming these words as Jesus did and claiming our role to follow in His footsteps.

During this Christmas season, the children have risen to a new level of awareness in my heart.  Perhaps it is because these are the ones who often have the least and who are most vulnerable.  Whether it is buying gifts for an “Angel Tree” child or assembling a “Christmas ShoeBox” for one in need, it makes a difference.  Whether it is ringing the Salvation Army bell for an hour or two or helping to assemble a holiday food basket for a needy child’s family, it makes a difference.These are but a few of the ways that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, can help a child or their family to feel loved this holiday season.  In doing so, we will “bestow on them a crown of beauty… oil of gladness… a garment of praise…”

May we each find ways to do for others this Christmas season.  Whether big or small, it all makes a positive difference.  May we bless the children with God’s love this Christmas season!

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Joy

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-18 – “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.

The Christmas season is a time when joy and love seem to abound in extra measure.  At our churches, the Children’s Christmas Program brings smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts long after the program itself has ended.  The Christmas songs on the radio or our play stations and the specials on television also add to the joy of the season.  Extra time with family and friends is an added bonus that brings us even more joy.

On the past two Sundays in many churches we have lit the candles of hope and peace and have been reminded of how, in Christ, God brings these things to the world.  This Sunday we will light the candle of joy and will be reminded of how Christ also brings us joy during the Advent season.  Joy is an emotion that naturally surrounds a birth as well.  So it is fitting that we await the birth of Jesus with much joy.

Yet very quickly after December 25, for many the Christmas season will end.  We turn from time with family and celebrations with great food and merriment to times of being alone and figuring out how we can lose what we gained and pay for what we gave.  Christmas is too often moved on from and picked up long before the season is actually over.  And if we are not careful, the joy that filled us and lifted our spirits can also slip away.

To be joyful in Christ is a trait that Christians should have all year round.  Christ does not go away with the trees and bows and songs.  But our heightened sense of joy can go.  To keep our sense of joy requires some intentional effort on our part.  We must choose to cultivate a sense of joy in our hearts all year long.  Whether we make it a portion of our daily prayer time or whether we keep a little “thank” journal that we write in each day or whether we post a few things that we are thankful for each day on social media, we must thank God each day for His presence, love, and activity in our lives.  As we practice being joyful, we will find that joy becomes a natural part of our daily lives.  It is then that we begin to live into these words:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.  May it be so.  Amen.


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Opportunities

Reading: Mark 1: 1-8

Verse Three: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him”.

At a school that I taught at for a long time, one year the theme was to performs RAKs – random acts of kindness.  The staff had t-shirts made up, we sought opportunities to do nice things for each other, and we tried to ‘catch’ students performing RAKs.  It spurred us all on to be on the lookout for opportunities to do random nice things for our students and for each other.  It was a good year at old DMS because whenever someone went out of their way to do something nice for you, it caused you to be mindful of finding something to do for someone else.  In this sense, it was contagious.

This same feeling seems to persist around this time of the year.  During the Advent season, love just seems to be a bit more in the air.  We hold the door open more readily, we buy and extra item or two at the grocery store for the food bank table at church, we smile and say ‘hello’ a little more warmly.  In many churches, we seek to go a bit further, doing something special during the Christmas season.  Some churches assemble Christmas Shoeboxes, some host a free Christmas dinner for the community, some collect a Christmas Eve offering for a cause in the community or in the world.  While all of these are just wonderful, they are just a part of what we are called to at the time of Christmas.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are also called to shine the light personally.  Just as John baptized in the wilderness, so too are we to call others to Jesus Christ through our words and actions.  Through the ways we demonstrate love, kindness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness… we are seeking to “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him”.  It is by being Jesus’ hands, feet, and heart that we invite others to come to know Him.  One of my devotionals put it this way this morning: “When we love, He will come”.  It is a great thought.  Each day, from now through Christmas, may we individually seek opportunities to give another person a random act of kindness, allowing Jesus to shine His light and love into another’s heart.  May it be so.


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A Voice

Reading: Mark 1: 1-6

Verse Two: “I will send my messenger ahead of you… to prepare the way”.

Mark quotes Isaiah to open up his “gospel about Jesus Christ, Son of God”.  This quote from Isaiah 40 is the the Israelites what John 3:16 is to Christians.  It is a very well-known verse to Mark’s audience.  Through hundreds of years of various oppression, exiles, and other trials, the Israelites have clung to the promise of a Messiah.  To the Israelites, the prophets have always been bearers of God’s word.  So when John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, proclaiming that the Messiah is near, people flock out to see and hear him.  John is a one-man faith revival, much like Elijah and the other great prophets who came before him.  Why do people – “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” – come out to see John?  Because he speaks words of hope and restoration.

In times of suffering and oppression, when one rises up to speak words of hope and restoration, they tend to draw a crowd, people tend to listen.  In more recent times this has happened with Gandhi in India, with Mandela in South Africa, and with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States.  These men spoke words of hope and restoration.  They gave the oppressed a voice that brought hope.  In our nation, Martin Luther King, Jr., brought a voice of hope coupled with compassion, peace, and, above all else, faith.  He sought to bring hope and to bring equality to a people who faced injustices and segregation.  His words of hope, strengthened by faith in God, brought great change to our nation.

Mark writes of one who will bring even greater change than this.  Mark writes of Jesus Christ, the One who will bring hope and love and compassion and peace to all peoples of all nations.  But w are getting a but ahead of ourselves.  Today we have John, the voice who called folks to repentance, preparing them for the One who is to come.  Today, many are out there in the “wilderness”, longing for hope and restoration.  Can we raise up our voices as followers of Jesus Christ, calling people to make straight their paths, to prepare their hearts for the One who is coming?  May we be loud and clear as we invite others to come and know this Jesus, the Savior and Messiah, the hope and restorer of the world.


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Patience

Reading: 2 Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse Eleven: “What kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives.”

The followers of Jesus that lived in His lifetime thought that He would return very soon – in weeks or maybe in months.  But as the months turned into years and the years into decades, it became harder and harder to wait.  Not only did Jesus not return, but the Jews and other non-Christians were more than willing to remind them.  Over time the faithful began to wait with a patient and enduring hope.  Peter writes of this, saying, “He is patient… not wanting anyone to perish”.  Maybe God has not allowed Jesus to return just yet because there are still more souls to be saved.

I read a story in my devotional this morning about a woman who also held onto hope.  The militia had arrested her husband and son three years before, yet she continued to come every Monday, to the local police station, to hold a prayer vigil for her husband and son.  One day a guard mocked her and she replied with faith: “God’s justice will never fail.  It may come today or it may come in a 1,000 years, but it is coming”.  Her rock-solid faith allowed her to stand in the face of beatings and other persecutions to continue to pray for her family.  She stood on God’s promise to one day return and make all things new.

While all this is to say that God is patient, Peter also reminds us that the return will come like “a thief in the night”.  It will be quick and unexpected.  This idea makes me think of the Berlin Wall and the 9/11 attacks.  The Wall had seemed to stand forever – as long as anyone could remember.  Then one day, it was suddenly torn down.  The twin towers had always seemed to be in the skyline view, then one day they suddenly were not.  In light of this unknown time, Peter asks us, “”What kind of people ought you to be?”  Without pause he continues to answer the question, saying, “You ought to live holy and godly lives.”  He calls us to live as Jesus lived, holy and godly.

Yes, we will fall short at times.  Yes, we lose our grip on the promise now and then.  In our last verse, Peter adds a word of encouragement that we need to hold fast to: “Bear in mind that the Lord’s patience means salvation”.  It is a love that never ends and a mercy that washes over sin after sin.  Thanks be to God for your steadfast love and your patient mercy.


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Prepare the Way

Reading: Psalm 85: 8-13

Verse 11: “Faithfulness springs forth from the earth and righteousness looks down from heaven”.

Today’s passage is about when we and God meet.  It is about how we seek to live righteous lives so that others may come to know God the Lord.  It is about the beauty of being in relationship with God.

The psalmist begins where we need to begin – listening to God and what God has to say.  When we do, whether through reading and meditating on scripture or through prayer, then we will indeed hear His promises, will experience His peace and love, and will be less likely to “return to folly” (or sin).  The more we listen to God, the better our connection to God and our faith.  As our connections grows, our love of God deepens.  As this occurs, our love for mankind becomes more evident.  As the psalmist writes “Love and faithfulness meet together”, he is speaking of this process.  As our faith matures, these two come to be like one: love leads us to faithfulness and our faithfulness deepens our love.  Soon they mesh, almost as one.  The second half of this verse speaks of the results: “righteousness and peace kiss each other”.  We are walking lock-step with God.

Verse eleven beautifully illustrates this idea: “Faithfulness springs forth from the earth and righteousness looks down from heaven”.  Our faith comes alive as we live it out, becoming more and more like Christ.  In turn, God looks down from heaven and gives us what is good, yielding a harvest.  The harvest is what Jesus speaks about in both Matthew 9 and Luke 10.  Jesus encourages us to call upon the Lord of the harvest to send us out into the fields.  All around us the harvest is plentiful – there are many lost souls seeking meaning and purpose in life, sensing there is more to this existence than just life.

Our Psalm today concludes with these words: “Righteousness goes before Him and prepares the way for His steps”.  May we be the righteousness that goes out into the world today, preparing the way for the Lord to enter the hearts of the lost that they may be saved.


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Remember

Reading: Psalm 85: 1-2 and 8-9

Verse Nine: Surely His salvation is near for those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land”.

Today’s Psalm opens by remembering when God showed favor to His people when He restored Jacob and established the twelve tribes of Israel.  The second verse recalls how God has forgiven the people over and over.  Even this early in their collective history, the people have plenty of experience with the cycle of sin and God’s forgiveness.  The psalmist looks back over the history of the people’s relationship with God to remind them of God’s loving and active presence with them.  Sometimes, in a tough moment, all we can do is remember when God has been there for us in the past and cling to the hope and promise that God will be present again in a mighty and powerful way.

A few years ago, I was part of a high school mission trip to Seattle.  On our last ferry ride back across Puget Sound, as we were beginning the long trek home, God became present.  One of the ship’s crew had suddenly passed away and his only ‘family’ in the area was the crew of the ship.  The outward and inward bound ferries stopped beside each other in the middle of the Sound and the captain of our ship led a brief memorial service and tossed a wreath into the water.  As we stood in silence, a few of our youth chose to “listen to what God the Lord will say” and they began to sing “Amazing Grace”.  Everyone joined in and it was a very sacred moment.  It was a powerful experience of God’s presence in our lives and of His love for us all.  We returned to the top deck where we had been worshiping and shortly the captain appeared.  He shared that he believed that God had placed us on that exact ship that very day to remind him of God’s love and care for us all, his dear friend included.  As we departed the ship a while later, a still teary-eyed captain again thanked us for the reminder of God’s love and care for us all.

Just as recalling God’s activity with Jacob and God’s abundant grace throughout their history strengthened the Israelites, so do our ferry moments remind us of times when God has shown up and they strengthen our faith and encourage us in our moments of trial.When have you experienced God in a powerful and meaningful way?  Remember these times today and be grateful.