pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Long Run

Reading: Matthew 11: 2-11

Verse 2: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else”?

John the Baptist is in prison. His earthly ministry has come to an end. During his time in the wilderness he called many to a baptism of repentance. They heard John’s powerful message and emerged from the waters committed to living a devout faith in order to be prepared for the coming Messiah. During this time, Jesus himself came and was baptized by John. God spoke words of blessing over the one John himself called the “lamb of God”. Yet, in today’s passage, John sends some followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else”? What could lead John to question who Jesus was?

Because he was a prophet and because he was so closely connected to God, in those moments in the wilderness, John sensed who Jesus was and identified him as the Messiah. Now John sits in prison. He is being punished because one in power did not like hearing the truth. The Romans remain in control. When is the Messiah going to do something about all this? When is the Messiah going to rise up and lead Israel back to greatness? John is allowing his present circumstances and his worldly longings to affect how he sees and understands Jesus. We can do this as well. We can allow our hard circumstances and the pressures of the world to affect our relationship with and our faith in Christ. We too can become disoriented and can question or doubt our faith.

Jesus’ response is two-fold. The first part reminds John (and us) of what Jesus’ real purpose and mission was and is. Jesus came to bring healing and hope to a broken world. John himself had challenged the religious leaders to “produce fruit”. In Luke’s gospel John defines this as giving to those in need, as caring for others… Jesus is reminding John that his kingdom is not about being powerful in the worldly sense. The second reminder is to John the person. Jesus declares that John fulfilled his divine role in calling or pointing people towards Jesus. Jesus declares John the greatest prophet. Jesus is assuring John that his life does not amount to his current situation. He is reminding John that what truly matters, in the long run, is the faithful service that John gave to his Lord and Savior. Even the last line of our passage today points to this reality: all in heaven will be greater than their earthly self. Hold onto hope John, the best is yet to come. This too is our truth. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am having my John the Baptist moments, feeling sorry for myself or questioning why I am where I am, remind me as you did John. Help me to be light and love in the dark places and ever remind me of the end of the real story. Thank you. Amen.


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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 Way

Reading: Isaiah 35: 1-10

Verse 8: “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness”.

Isaiah 35 paints a picture of hope for all peoples. For those of Isaiah’s time, those living in captivity in Babylon would envision a future back in the Promised Land with hope. For the Jews living in Jesus’ day, they would envision a future of hope too. Their vision would not include the Romans or any other overlord. For Christians living today, we read this passage and envision a day when all of creation is restored to new life. For each group, the Messiah is the focal point. The one who frees and brings healing and wholeness is what is awaited.

Isaiah writes, “the wilderness will rejoice and blossom”. What was dry and without life will flow with water and new life will spring up. The shoot from the stump of Jesse – that which we just read about in Isaiah 11 and Romans 15 – will bring healing to all things. As believers in Jesus Christ, we know that the Messiah has come. Jesus brought life to our dryness and his living waters bubble up within us, like springs in the desert, renewing and refreshing us.

In verse eight we read, “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness”. As followers of Jesus Christ we know this highway. In repentance and faithful obedience we walk this road every day. It is not an eight lane super highway. It is a narrow path. While it is narrow his yoke is easy and the burden light. Once we enter the Way of Holiness, life lived in Christ, the journey becomes purposeful and the steps are clear. The steps are not always easy to take, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, they are clear. It is a road that once walked brings joy, love, hope, peace, and so much more. As we walk in the Way, we approach Zion and the everlasting crown referred to at the end of Isaiah 35. May the Lord bless the journey today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for walking with me. Because you are always there, I never go alone. Thank you for your abiding presence and guiding Spirit. Lead me today, O great Jehovah. 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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Spirit of Unity

Reading: Romans 15: 4-7

Verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”.

In the early church in Rome they were struggling to all be the church. One dominant group, the Jewish Christians, were clinging to the Torah and other writings and teachings of the Jewish faith. The “newer” believers, who were called “Gentiles”, did not have this long history with God. Their entrance to the faith was based upon believing that Jesus was the Messiah and then being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in this order for the last two). The central issue in this early church came down to how much of the Hebrew scriptures… were essential to being a Christian. The answer to this question has played itself out for two thousand years.

The people in the church in Rome basically fell into three groups. One group wanted to use all of the Jewish scriptures… for “membership” in the church. One group did not want to use any of these as benchmarks for membership. In the middle was a group that felt some was useful and some was not essential. Paul, in general, fell into this middle group. This was quite a change for Paul. Up until pretty recently, Paul was known as Saul. As Saul he was a Pharisee – an uber follower of all the laws and Jewish teachings from the scriptures. In verse four we read Paul’s words to the church. Here we read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”. We can learn from all of the Hebrew scriptures… But that does not necessarily mean following every single law and writing. And it does not mean that we willy-nilly pick what we like and do not like. With endurance and with encouragement from the entirety of scripture, we find our way forward. This has been the Jewish practice for thousands of years. They learned that the black letters do not always tell us how to interpret and apply something written to another time or context. So they dig down deep and find the intent or the purpose or the meaning of the law… To say “we’ve always done it this way” and to insist that’s the only option is sometimes harmful and sometimes limits the fruit produced for the glory of God. But that is what the Jewish Christians were saying. They wanted the Gentiles to first become good Jews – follow all of the law, do things as we have always done them. The early church did find the way forward. A spirit of unity prevailed and led them to move forward, accepting one another. God was glorified, the church grew, Christ was taught and followed. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, as it was, so it remains. It is not always easy being the church. Made up of fallible human beings, we still struggle with what it means to simply love you and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us. Lead and guide us, as you did the early church, to be one in you. Amen.


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Worship God

Reading: Hebrews 12: 25-29

Verse 28: “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God”.

Today’s verses talk about what can be shaken and what cannot be shaken. In verse 26 we are drawn back to the crucifixion and death of Jesus, when the whole earth trembled and the veil was torn in two. These two events signaled the fact that no ordinary man had died. When the tomb was empty on the third day, it confirmed that Jesus was the Messiah. In this same verse we are reminded that “once more” the earth will be shaken but this time heaven will also be shaken. Christ’s second coming will usher in a new era when all will be made holy and eternal.

In our world as we know it, much can be shaken. The physical world can be shaken – earthquakes and violent storms shake the earth itself as well as the structures we build upon it. We can also be shaken emotionally and spiritually. In times of distress at work, for example, our self-confidence and sense of security can be shaken. When we experience unexpected loss, our very being can be shaken to the core. In both of these examples and in many more experiences, our faith and trust in God can be shaken. Here I return to verse 25: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks”. When we are feeling shaken, it is then that we need to really listen to the voice of Jesus, to the Holy Spirit, to allow his peace and strength and comfort and… to fill us up.

Chapter twelve closes with a promise. In verse 28 we read, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God”. One day Jesus Christ will return. All will be made new again. The new heaven and earth will never be shaken. It will not be shaken because we will constantly be in the Lord’s presence. Until then? Worship God. Worship acceptably and with reverence and awe. Worship the one who cannot be shaken with our whole lives – with all we do and say and think. May we worship with all we are, bringing glory to our God and King.

Prayer: Lord, you are the solid rock upon which we stand. At times, though, our legs get a little wobbly and our feet can start to shuffle a bit. In those times, speak loud and clear. Give us ears to hear the Holy Spirit telling us we are loved, we are cared for, we are your children. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Living Out Faith?

Reading: Luke 12: 49-56

Verse 56: “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time”?

Sometimes when I read the Bible I forget that the people are living long ago. Sometimes I imagine Jesus talking to me instead of to a crowd of first century Jews. When Jesus says things like “I have a baptism to undergo”, I think of something much different than his audience would have thought. For those new to Jesus maybe they’d have thought it a bit late to be baptized. For those following Jesus they’d have remembered John baptizing Jesus in the wilderness and they would be confused. But when we read the words many years later we connect them to Jesus’ crucifixion. At the time, only Jesus would have this thought.

After acknowledging the crowd’s ability to predict the weather based on the signs they see in the sky, Jesus admonishes them for not being able to see who he is. He asks them, “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time”? We can look back, again, knowing how the story ends and we can think the same question as Jesus asks. But hold that thought for a second.

Jesus’ audience is steeped in the Old Testament. They have read and read the Messianic prophecies and other writings scattered throughout the scriptures. These are signs predicting the coming Messiah. As his birth, life, and ministry have unfolded, many have been fulfilled. These are the signs that Jesus implores them to read, see, and interpret. But many in the crowd are not really looking. Most Jews want a Messiah that is another David, a triumphant leader who defeats the Romans. Others there are curious – they hope see or perhaps receive a miracle. They want a peek at this Jesus character. Not many are not looking for the servant king predicted in the Bible.

Let us return to the question for a moment. We have read the end of the story and we know that Jesus is the Messiah. We know the gift of salvation, the promise of eternal life, the daily presence of the Holy Spirit… In turn, do we live out a life of faith seeking to make disciples of all people? Or do we live out a personal, private faith?

Dear God, I can do better. Help me to better live out my faith. I do not always love the least and the lost. I do not always share the good news with the broken and hurting. Lead me outside my comfort zone, O God. Amen.