pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Diligently

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-6

Verse 4: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”.

I pastor in a rural community where many are involved in agriculture. In a small but real way, the farmers and ranchers live out the idea of a new earth each year. We all experience the seasons in South Dakota, but for me that mostly means I dress differently and such. In general, for me, life in October is much like life in April. But for those tied to the annual renewal of the earth, this is not the case.

As people of faith we live in this present time with a hopeful eye towards the time when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”. We look forward but we do so with patience. Yes, it will be wonderful beyond anything we can begin to imagine, but we are just fine if it a ways down the road. With this hope, though, we are called to live an active faith in the present. Within we are to spend time daily with God and to grow more in love with God in this way. Without we are to allow our faith and God’s love to color all we do and say and think. We are to live as humble servants in this time and place, diligently building the kingdom of God here and now.

In the agricultural community there is a parallel. During the winter months, when the fields are dormant, they do not just sit and stare out the window. They are actively preparing – planning and studying, readying machinery, purchasing the needed seeds… They diligently do all they can to insure the greatest possible success when the new season comes. If they use the best seeds for the season ahead and do all that they can to have the best crop, then a good harvest likely lies ahead.

The same is true of our faith and the journey we are on towards eternal life. May we each tend diligently to the things of God, preparing for the new that is to come.

Prayer: Lord God, this day may I sow good seeds of faith and hope within and without. May I do all I can, empowered by the Holy Spirit, walking closer to you day by day. 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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Community

Reading: James 5: 13-20

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.

Suffering, pain, illness, sin – all are a part of our world and our lives. To go through these things alone is a terrible tragedy. For James, and for us, being a part of a faith community and having a personal relationship with God offers the best methods of dealing with suffering…

James invites us to begin with prayer. It is through prayer that we bring our suffering to God and that we seek relief or repentance. In verse 16 James writes, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. Prayer is very powerful. The power is amplified when we pray in community, when we pray as a gathered community. Each day we also lift one another up in prayer just as others do the same, praying together spiritually. Communicating our needs to God also serves to remind us of our absolute need for God’s presence and activity in our lives.

In a similar manner, James encourages us to gather around those in need of healing, to anoint them with oil, and to pray over them. As we encircle them, anointing and praying in the name of Jesus Christ, we are naming our need for God to come and be at work in our lives. James tells us, “The Lord will lift them up”. May we hold to this promise.

James closes our section today with a good accountability reminder. He gives us the example of Elijah’s prayer that brought repentance to a wayward people. Yes, it took three and a half years. Sometimes our sin is stubborn too. Are you prepared to pray three and a half years for a brother or sister and their struggle with sin? I hope so! When the people repented and humbled themselves, Elijah prayed for God’s mercy and blessing to rain down, and they did both spiritually and literally.

These practices done in community – prayer, anointing, accountability – are all more effective and powerful when done together. As the body of Jesus Christ, may we seek to live and be in community, building up one another and the body of Christ each day.

Lord God, help me to build a sense of community with my family, friends, small groups, and with the congregation. May I lead by example with honesty, transparency, and love. Amen.


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Prayer for Disciples

Reading: John 17: 6-19

Verse Fifteen: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”.

Today’s passage is Jesus’ prayer for His disciples after He finally ascends to the Father into heaven. He has walked through the past three years with them, building up both their faith and also a personal relationship with each of them. Along the way He has prepared them for the day when He is no longer present. He has modeled what it is to be a humble servant and to love God with all one’s being. Jesus has sent them out on training missions to get a taste of what ministry without Jesus present.

In these things, Jesus reminds me of parenthood. As we raise our children, we model the behaviors, actions, and choices that we want them to make. We teach our children how to love God and others, how to be willing to give of oneself for the other. We allow them to swim a little on their own, celebrating when they succeed and picking them up when they fail. At some point it becomes time for them to be out on their own and we too pray over and for the next stage in their journey. And we keep praying for our children, just as Jesus does today as He intercedes for us all.

Jesus prays for His disciples as their work continues. Jesus realizes that they now belong to God and not to the world, just as He does. But there is still work to do, so Jesus prays, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”. He knows they must remain in the world to accomplish the plans that God has for them and His new church. Yet Jesus also knows the challenges that lie ahead so He prays for God to protect them. Jesus knows that just as Satan tempted Him in the wilderness with the things of the world, so too will Satan try and lead the disciples away from the truth.

This is why Jesus closes the prayer by asking God to sanctify them – to make them holy. Jesus knows that if the disciples live a holy life then it will protect them against the slings of the evil one. Jesus knows holiness is rooted in the truths found in the Bible, so He asks God to sanctify them by the truth. He is asking God to put the Word in them. It is by the truth found in the Word that they are made holy. By this same Word we are made holy. This day may we be disciples grounded in the Word, loving God and others with all we are.


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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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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.