pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Lifting and Filling?

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-53: “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”.

On Monday one of the members of the church stopped in to the office. We chatted for a little while. Part of the conversation was about context. She was curious about how the Bible can be so applicable thousands of years later. How we read a passage or interpret or even apply it can vary greatly over the ages and even within our own personal faith. On a personal level, for example, a passage can say something totally different to me today compared to when I read it ten years ago. The physical letters on the page have not changed at all. The context in which I read them has changed. Similarly, in applying the text, an illustration I use in a rural, small town congregation would not make sense in an urban setting and vice versa. And that context might affect how a hearer applies the message and passage to their life and faith.

In our passage today, Mary responds to God in a song. She has learned that she will be the mother of the Messiah, of the Savior of the world. Mary is a young teenage girl from a very poor family. She is engaged but not married. This is her context as she receives this news from God. Because of her context, she recognizes that this is all on God. She is powerless and must rely on God. In an outpouring of faith, Mary recognizes that God “has done great things for me” and that God’s mercy “extends to those who fear him”. God chose Mary because of her faith and because of her context. Mary goes on to sing, “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”. Mary connects to her context. She is humble. She is hungry. God has lifted her up and filled her with an amazingly good thing – Jesus.

God had and has always used the unlikely, the weak, the poor, the powerless. Mary is but one example of many. She recognizes this. Story after story in the Bible is about God using people like Mary to bring care to the poor, the marginalized… Jesus’ ministry was very much about and with this demographic of society. In fact, when Jesus speaks of who will inherit eternal life in Matthew 25, it is those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner who are identified as righteous and as those who will be welcomed into heaven. As we think about our personal ministries and about the ministries of our churches, do we join God in lifting up and filling our fellow children of God?

Prayer: God of all, your love is certainly not limited to just the poor or just to the rich, to just those in the church or to those outside the church. You are the God of all who loves all. Yet not all have access to that love. Many do not know of your love. Some even feel outside of or unworthy of your love. Help all of that to change. Each day, O Lord, use me as you will. Use me as you desire. To the mighty or to the low, in the halls of power or in the poorest neighborhood, use me today, O God. 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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A Great Love

Reading: Hosea 1:10

Verse 10: “There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God'”.

The people of Israel and Judah have separated and Israel has departed from God. God has decided to mercilessly send them into exile. The sins of idolatry are so great that a consequence is required. The people are no longer God’s people and God is not their God. At times we too get to a place that feels like this. Because of our sin we have created separation from God.

In today’s passage we find hope. God reveals through Hosea that Israel will be restored. The separation will not be forever. God begins by telling them that they will be as vast as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted. This image and these words echo the covenant that God made with Abraham. It speaks of a day when Israel will be a vast nation.

God also connects back to the reference to Jezreel. What had once been a place and event that was displeasing to God will now be where the restoration begins: “There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God'”. Once again Israel will live in covenant relationship with God. The relationship will come full circle. Israel will once again be God’s children and God will be their God.

At the start of the book of Hosea Israel was so far from God’s ways that a harsh consequence was necessary. Even though the sin was this great, God did not give up on them or forever abandon them. God did not stop loving his children. The message for us is the same.

Although our sin might be great, God will never stop loving us. It is that great love that gives us hope. It is a love that never fails. Therefore, whatever we might do, whatever we might become, there is still a God who loves us. There is still a God who wants to bring us back into right relationship. For us, for you and for me, God even went so far as to amend the sacrificial system. It cost God his son on the cross. Now, through Jesus’ blood, we can personally be restored and redeemed. It is a great love that never fails. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your love for me is amazing. No matter what I do, no matter how far I run, no matter what, your love always calls out to me, ever seeks to restore me, ever yearns to make me righteous again. Thank you for your love. Amen.


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Which Son?

Reading: Matthew 21: 28-32

Verse 28: Son, go and work today in the vineyard.

The priests and elders have just tried to question Jesus about His authority.  In today’s parable Jesus continues the conversation with them.  One son is asked by his father, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard”.  The first son refuses but later goes and works.  The second son hears the same request, says he will go, but does not go and work in the vineyard.

In Luke 10, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”.  Paired with our commission to go forth to make disciples of all nations, we have much to wrestle with in today’s parable.  Which son are we?

Each Sunday we gather in our churches to lift our voices in praise to God and to remind ourselves of how we are to live in the world as followers of Jesus.  We hear the Word proclaimed and the message brings application of the Word.  We offer up prayers of thanksgiving and we bring our requests as well, believing God to be loving and caring and merciful.  At the end of the service we receive a blessing or benediction that sends us out into the world to share Jesus.  We head out the doors to be His light and love in the world.

Jesus asks the priests and elders, “Which of the two sons did what his father wanted”?  We would answer as they did: “The first”.  The one who actually went out and worked in the vineyard.  It is important that he went out and worked in the vineyard because the harvest is indeed plentiful.

As Christians it is much easier to sing the songs, to pray the prayers, and to receive the message on Sunday morning than it is to go out into the world and to love our neighbors or to welcome the stranger.  It is difficult to love all people, to always offer grace and forgiveness, to be a humble servant.  Yet this is what the Lord of the harvest did every day.  The Father asks each of us to go to the vineyard, to labor today for the kingdom.  In reality, which son will you be today?


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Prophets

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

The opening lines of Jeremiah are powerful.  The Lord is staking a claim on Jeremiah’s life.  God tells him that before he was formed in the womb the claim had been made.  And Jeremiah was not just claimed as a child of God.  The Lord informed him that he had been set apart to be a prophet to the people if God.  Powerful and encouraging words.  Intimidating and frightening words.

Webster’s defines ‘prophet’ as, “a member of some religions who delivers messages that are believed to come from God”.  For Jeremiah, who is speaking directly with God in today’s passage, the message is surely from God.  The timed certainly dictated a need for God’s intervention.  Jeremiah’s place in history was one of turmoil, fear, and threats from outside.  Nations around them were growing in power and the nation of Israel was divided.  Instead of turning to God, the Kings of Judah and Israel tried to make alliances with other kings.  In the end, because of a lack of trust in God’s protection, both nations fell and many were taken to exile in Babylon.

We live in a time when our world needs to hear the Word of God and to experience the love of Jesus Christ.  Beginning in Genesis and running through Revelation we have the inspired Word of God, found in the writings of the Old Testament and the New Testament.  We too have a message to share that comes from God.

Jesus was clear that He was just the beginning.  Starting with the disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the work of Jesus was continued.  Paul, Timothy, and others joined in, filled with the same Holy Spirit.  The Word of God was proclaimed and lives were changed.  The world was changed.  Right up to today many have gone forth into the world to share their faith in Jesus with a world in need of love, hope, and light.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow prophets of God’s Holy Word, we too are called.  May we each go forth, armed with God’s messages of love, hope, forgiveness, and resurrection to change lives and to change our world.


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The Message

Reading: Galatians 1: 6-12

Paul opens his letter to the Galatians with some strong language and some hard words.  His words carry some emotion and urgency.  The church he founded there has begun to drift away from its origins and he does not like the change.  Paul taught them the gospel he received directly in a revelation from Jesus and it is important to him that the Galatians continue to hold dearly to the original message.  Paul knows that the message does not have to change much to really affect their faith.

All that Jesus taught and did in the Gospels can be boiled down to a few essentials.  First, love God completely.  Recognize Him as supreme, as Lord, as king of kings.  Second, love neighbor as Jesus first loved us.  His sacrifice on the cross let us know how much He loves us.  Now Jesus tells us to go and do the same: put others and their needs first no matter the cost to us.  Third, grace wins.  God’s love and His mercies never fail, making all who call on Him as Lord and Savior new creations every morning.  Our grateful response to this amazing love and mercy is to offer our lives daily in service to God.

Paul knew how essential the pure message of the gospel was.  He knew that our faith would lead to action.  He knew if the gospel message was changed or distorted, we would begin to follow our own way more than Jesus’ way.  Our belief really does lead to action.  When our belief is correctly rooted in the message of Jesus Christ, then our lives bear fruit according to this message.  May we cling tightly to the truth found in Jesus Christ, living daily as authentic witnesses to His light and love.


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Spiritual Life

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34 & 35b

In the Psalm today we see the timelessness of the Holy Spirit.  The psalmist writes of the Holy Spirit coming and breathing life into all of the creatures of the earth.  We see a similar giving of life in Ezekiel 37 where the dry bones are covered in tissues and flesh but require the Breath or Spirit to come into them to give life.

At Pentecost, the life given is a spiritual life, not a physical life.  When the Holy Spirit descended on those first believers, they were physically alive.  But when the Spirit entered them they were born anew, not of flesh and bone, but of the Spirit of God.  They were each made into a new creation as they were filled with a power and presence unlike anything before.  The living and active presence of God was now here to dwell in the hearts of all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior.  The physical sign of the flames that descended on each there that first Pentecost demonstrated that the Holy Spirit is not limited to one place or time and is not limited in its presence.

Just as the Spirit breathes physical life into all things, the Spirit can breathe spiritual life into all of humanity.  Just as the power and presence empowered the first disciples to take the message of Jesus to Jerusalem, Samaria, and across the known world, so too does the same Holy Spirit enable us to take the same good news out into the whole world.  Just as the first disciples allowed the Holy Spirit to set them on fire for sharing the good news, may we also be lit ablaze with the light and love of Jesus Christ as well!