pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Build the Kingdom

Reading: Isaiah 11: 6-10

Verse 10: “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the people; the nations will rally to him”.

Isaiah writes of a kingdom that seems hard to wrap our minds around. This vision of endless peace is difficult to contemplate in our day and age. Verses six through eight are filled with images that are very unlike the relationships that exist today. Wolves do not live with lambs; cows do not feed alongside bears. We shudder at the image of a child putting its hand into the den of poisonous snakes. What if this vision of harmony and peace were a metaphor for what God’s kingdom could look like today? What would this kind of world look like today?

We do catch a glimpse of it now and then. When the families of the children slain at school went and offered forgiveness and mercy to the shooter and his family, we saw a glimpse. When the concentration camp survivor hugged and offered grace to the camp guard, we caught a glimpse. It remains fully possible for the power of God to break in even in this day and age. That is part of what Advent is all about. As we live into and practice peace, hope, love, and joy we are drawn closer to the vision laid out in Isaiah 11. In verse ten we read, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the people; the nations will rally to him”. Right now we await this day. The kingdom described here has not yet been fulfilled. We live in the “not yet”. It is a time of building, a time of drawing nearer to its culmination.

The question for us is this: what role will we play? Will we be but observers? Or will we have an active role in the building of the kingdom? If we are to be builders we must actively engage those we see as wolves and lions and bears and vipers. If we want to build the kingdom of peace, hope, love, and joy, we must be examples of these things in the darkness of the world. What barriers must we cross? What risks must we take? Are we willing to step bravely forth with God’s peace, hope, love, and joy? May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, reveal to me the darkness into which you are calling me to bring light. Encourage me and fill me with your Spirit to go where you want to send me. May I be your peace, hope, love, and joy today. Amen.


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As One Approved

Reading: 2nd Timothy 2: 8-15

Verse 13: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful”.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are in tune with the Holy Spirit. The still small voice and the gentle nudge are ever at work is us to draw us closer to Jesus and to lead us to share his love with a world in need. The Holy Spirit is like a skill or a muscle – the more we use it, the better developed in becomes. The reverse is also true. If we ignore or reject the Holy Spirit over and over the voice dims and grows harder and harder to hear.

Paul was one to hear the voice loud and clear. The letter to Timothy that we read today comes from prison. Hence his reference “God’s word is not chained”. Paul has been arrested many times, has been beaten often, and has even been stoned and shipwrecked. Yet his focus has always remained on his calling to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Nothing has deterred him. In verse ten we read “I endure everything for the sake of the elect”. It is all for those who “may obtain salvation that is in Jesus Christ”.

If you are reading this, you are seeking to grow closer to Christ. It is very likely that today we will all have opportunity to share Jesus’ love with another. In some cases it will be easy because it is a natural extension of who we are. It may be showing empathy to a friend or loved one. It may be offering words of encouragement or support to a co-worker. In situations like these, we hear the Holy Spirit very well. But we may also find ourselves in a situation that is hard. Maybe our opportunity involves someone that is very different than us or is someone we dislike. Maybe the opportunity means risking something or stepping into a difficult situation.
Some of the time we feel like what is being asked is too much and we fail to follow the lead and guide of the Spirit. Here we recall verse thirteen: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful”. God does not ever give up on us. The Holy Spirit continues to be at work. As we strive to grow closer and closer to Jesus Christ, our ability and likelihood to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit grows with us. We too, like Paul and Timothy, are called to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved”. May it be so.

Prayer: Leading God, I fail less than I used to, but I still fail to always be your love in the world. Forgive my failures. Thank you for your unending love. May it ever work within me to make me more and more like your son. Amen.


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Trusting Faith

Reading: Mark 5: 21-24 and 35-43

Verse 23: “Please come and put your hands on my daughter so that she will be healed and live”.

In today’s reading a desperate father comes to Jesus. He falls at Jesus’ feet and begs Him to see his dying daughter. As a parent, I would do almost anything for my children. I think most parents fall into this mindset. We would give up much or do anything in our power to save our children from suffering and hardship.

Jarius is certainly willing to risk for his daughter. As the ruler of the synagogue, he is aligned with the powers that be. These powers, the Pharisees and Herodians, have already clashed with Jesus and have begun to plot His demise. Risking his position in the synagogue and within the powers that be, Jarius goes to Jesus. His daughter is dying. Jarius meets Jesus and falls at his feet. He begs Jesus, saying, “Please come and put your hands on my daughter so that she will be healed and live”. His daughter is dying. The time is short. He is desperate. Jesus is his last resort.

We are often like Jarius. We come to Jesus when we feel as if He were our last resort, when time has about run out, when we are desperate. We first try and do it on our own. Then we turn to “experts” next. We only turn to our faith when the end is near. Then we expect an instant solution, a quick fix. We can be sure that Jarius had a sense of urgency about his request. When he begged Jesus to come, “now” was certainly implied.

This is often our mindset when we pray. Jesus, answer my prayer now. Answer it how I want it answered. Now. Do what I want right now! We are not good at waiting. We do not do well waiting patiently for God’s will to be revealed. Perhaps if we started praying first…

Just as Jesus is finishing His conversation that interrupted the trip to Jarius’ home, Jarius receives some bad news – your daughter is dead. Immediately Jesus offers hope: “Don’t be afraid; just believe”. He is saying, keep the faith Jarius. Hold onto your faith. Turn your desperate faith into trusting faith. Believe. Allow your faith to be real. I cannot imagine what was going through Jarius’ mind as they walked to his house and then into his daughter’s room. This is how we must walk sometimes too: unsure but trusting in Jesus anyway. Like Jarius, may we walk in trusting faith, believing in God’s plan.


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Trusting Faith

Reading: Mark 5: 21-24 and 35-43

Verse 23: “Please come and put your hands on my daughter so that she will be healed and live”.

In today’s reading a desperate father comes to Jesus. He falls at Jesus’ feet and begs Him to see his dying daughter. As a parent, I would do almost anything for my children. I think most parents fall into this mindset. We would give up much or do anything in our power to save our children from suffering and hardship.

Jarius is certainly willing to risk for his daughter. As the ruler of the synagogue, he is aligned with the powers that be. These powers, the Pharisees and Herodians, have already clashed with Jesus and have begun to plot His demise. Risking his position in the synagogue and within the powers that be, Jarius goes to Jesus. His daughter is dying. Jarius meets Jesus and falls at his feet. He begs Jesus, saying, “Please come and put your hands on my daughter so that she will be healed and live”. His daughter is dying. The time is short. He is desperate. Jesus is his last resort.

We are often like Jarius. We come to Jesus when we feel as if He were our last resort, when time has about run out, when we are desperate. We first try and do it on our own. Then we turn to “experts” next. We only turn to our faith when the end is near. Then we expect an instant solution, a quick fix. We can be sure that Jarius had a sense of urgency about his request. When he begged Jesus to come, “now” was certainly implied.

This is often our mindset when we pray. Jesus, answer my prayer now. Answer it how I want it answered. Now. Do what I want right now! We are not good at waiting. We do not do well waiting patiently for God’s will to be revealed. Perhaps if we started praying first…

Just as Jesus is finishing His conversation that interrupted the trip to Jarius’ home, Jarius receives some bad news – your daughter is dead. Immediately Jesus offers hope: “Don’t be afraid; just believe”. He is saying, keep the faith Jarius. Hold onto your faith. Turn your desperate faith into trusting faith. Believe. Allow your faith to be real. I cannot imagine what was going through Jarius’ mind as they walked to his house and then into his daughter’s room. This is how we must walk sometimes too: unsure but trusting in Jesus anyway. Like Jarius, may we walk in trusting faith, believing in God’s plan.


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Repent and…

Reading: Mark 1: 14-18

Verse Fifteen: “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news”.

Jesus begins His earthly ministry in a similar manner to John the Baptist’s ministry.  Like John, Jesus calls the people to repent and then to accept the good news.  Repentance must come first.  We simply cannot walk with Jesus when we have sin in our lives.  Sin, by its nature, separates us from God.  Repentance requires a change in our lives.  Whatever the sin, it leads us away from God.  So if our desire is to be in a relationship with God, then we must turn away from our sin and resubmit our lives to faithful obedience.

As Jesus entered Galilee, the message He preached was all about repentance.  He said over and over, “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news”.  This theme continued throughout His ministry.  The woman caught in adultery heard this message as Jesus told her, “Go now and leave your life of sin”.  Zacchaeus pledges a new life as he promises to repay all that he has wronged.  Jesus responds by declaring that salvation has come to Zacchaeus that day.  Over and over Jesus calls us to leave our sin behind and to turn to Him.

Repentance is hard.  It would be easier to skip over this part of the passage.  Repentance requires admitting that we did something wrong, that we faltered.  This requires a certain amount of humility.  Pride and ego can get in the way.  Repentance also requires an honest look into ourselves, a searching if you will, to see the sin in our lives.  And lastly, it requires that we commit to being better, to walking a more holy life, to being more like Jesus.

Jesus sought disciples who were willing to put their old life behind them to come and follow Him.  It required a radical change in direction.  Simon and Andrew heard His call and began a new way of life.  It was risky and full of the unknown.  It required trust.  Repentance can bring us these same feelings as we choose to leave a part of ourselves behind and we are not sure where our new self will go.  Just as Jesus called the first disciples, He calls us as well.  Jesus is still seeking followers who are willing to orient their lives to a new way of living over and over.  The journey of faith never ends as our faith is always growing and developing.  The call involves risk for us too.  Are we willing to risk and to trust in wherever Jesus leads?  After all, the call is to come and follow.


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Talents to Work

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 25: “So I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground”.

Fear motivates at least the third slave.  He is fearful of losing the master’s money so he goes and buries it in the ground.  At least when the master returns he can give him what is his.  He is playing it safe.  He knows the master is harsh, so he avoids taking a risk.  When the master returns he punishes the third slave for playing it too safe.  The one talent he has is taken and given to the one with ten talents.  The third slave is thrown out into the darkness.

As Christians, does God expect us to take chances, to do some risky things for our faith?  I think He does.  At a minimum we are called to live out our faith.  In the simple way we live our lives, we should be sharing our faith with others.  This takes risks.  To offer fellowship to that co-worker who always seems to be alone takes on the risk of rejection.  To offer grace and forgiveness to that classmate who always wants to be first, usually hurting others to get there, takes on the risk of being hurt again.  To ask that person who seems to be in a rough spots takes on the risk of involvement and possibly relationship.  And these are just a few small risks that God expects us to take as ones who try and follow Christ’s example.  Each act, as a small seed planted, will one day bear fruit for the kingdom.

I believe God is also calling us to more than simply living out our faith.  God creates each of us uniquely, with special talents inside each of us.  Some are teachers, some are preachers, some are evangelists, …  God expects us to take these talents and to put these to work as well.  It usually involves stepping out of our comfort zones the first time or two.  Yet as we live into the call of God on our lives, we begin to see these actions bearing fruit as well.  God desires to be at work in and through us, allowing the light and love of Jesus to go forth into the world, bearing a crop 30, 60, or 100 times what was sown.  In both the small ways and in the big ways, may we each seek to use the talents that God has given us to build the kingdom here on earth.