pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Matthew 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Many people were coming out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. It was your typical Sunday morning crowd this day in Matthew 3. Many came to hear John’s call to repentance and to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, symbolizing being made clean. Some came to support those making a choice to seek a new life. They had walked the narrow road since coming to see John themselves. Some came because they thought they should. Their minds were on a million other things and their hearts were even further from faith in God. But this day, some came to see the show. They would gather later, to ridicule it within the safety of their little circle.

This day the usual preaching and baptizing comes to a screeching halt as John yells out, “You brood of vipers”! I bet you could have heard a pin drop. He asks them who warned them to “flee from the coming wrath”? He is calling them out for coming to the river and then returning to their unrepentant lives later that afternoon. The Pharisees and Sadducees do not even think about stepping into the river. Why would they?

This would be like our communion stewards going to someone who remained in the pew instead of coming forward and being told, “No thanks. I’m good – haven’t sinned since I took communion last month”. We may be taken aback by such a thought, but there will be folks who move with the crowd, who take communion and just go through the motions. They will move through the line, they will take the bread and the juice, without ever searching their hearts, without ever seeking to repent of their sins. They will go through the motions planning on returning to life as it was.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. Live lives that look like you have repented of your sins. Live lives that look like you love God and neighbor more than you love yourself. Don’t just appear to love God and neighbor. Really love them in concrete and practical ways. Love God and neighbor in ways that make them feel loved by you.

John proclaims that one day Jesus will “gather his wheat into the barn”. Live lives worthy of being gathered into Jesus’ barn. Produce fruit that builds the kingdom of God both in your heart and in the hearts of others.

Prayer: Lord, show me today how to love you more and to love others more. Convict me when I fall short of what you call me to. Guide me by your Holy Spirit to be your love in the world today. Amen.


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Never the Same

Reading: Luke 19: 1-10

Verse 5: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”.

Zacchaeus is like many we see coming to Jesus. He is not popular. He lives on the edge or outside of society. He has few friends. He is looked down upon by the religious order and by almost everyone else. This tax collector is like others who came to Jesus: the lepers, the prostitute, the adulterous woman, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed… Zacchaeus has chosen his lot in life – one would bid for the lucrative position of tax collector. He chose wealth over many other things and over many relationships. He is where he is in life by his own choices.

How like Zacchaeus we are! We might not be tax collectors but we do often choose things ahead of our faith. Every time we sin – no matter how big or small – we are choosing self over God. Each time we make something more important than God we are elevating self over God. The choice is not limited to wealth or possessions. We can pursue a host of other things more than we pursue our faith. We chase after status and titles, after accomplishments and success. We can work hard so that others notice us or so that we gain that recognition. Yes, we can struggle with keeping faith the top priority in our life.

Zacchaeus heard Jesus was in town and wanted to see him. Zacchaeus was not looking to be healed or to have an audience with Jesus. He was curious. For Zacchaeus, yes, friends and some acceptance would have been nice. But life was okay. Wealth can make life feel okay. So can titles and recognition, possessions and status. Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree just so he can see Jesus pass by.

As Jesus gets to the place in the road adjacent to Zacchaeus’ tree, he stops, looks up at him, and says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”. The curious is captured by the curiosity. Life will never be the same for Zacchaeus. It was never the same for the lepers, the prostitute, … It was never the same for us. In this sense, we too were once like Zacchaeus. We were curious about Jesus and he eventually worked his way into our lives. Who do you know that is curious about or is searching for Jesus? Help them to know him today.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the words to speak today to turn hearts to you. Guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Tell of His Love

Reading: Luke 15: 1-10

Verse 4: “Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it”?

As we read these two stories, we begin to understand how important it is for God to find the lost. It has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus told these stories. The first disciples thought Jesus’ return was going to be soon – certainly during their lifetime. I believe this expanse of time shows both God’s love for humanity and God’s love for the lost. There are still souls to be saved.

We were once one of these lost souls. We were the sheep or the coin (or the prodigal son in the next story). During the first part of my college experience I was the lost sheep. I was raised in the church and was active in youth group through high school. In college, my faith took a back seat for a few years until God found me again in a pile of grief. A few years later I was like the lost coin – still somewhere in the house but not really connected or engaged. We went to a church most Sundays but it wasn’t ever our church. It was more like checking the box than being a part of a faith family. God was present in my life, but was mostly hidden. We all have experiences or seasons where we wander a little bit from the faith we once knew and lived. Like the shepherd and like the woman, God searches for us. “Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it”?

I am so very grateful that God sought me out when I was lost. Once it was a trial, a suffering, that drew me back. Other times it was a gentle whisper, a soft nudge. All of these are a part of my faith story, a part of who I am today as a child of God. I rejoice that God loves me so much that he never gives up on me. Is that your response too? If so, may we tell others of Jesus’ love for them.

Prayer: Loving Father God, when I think about your love, I both marvel at it and am humbled by it. My response: thank you for your love. May my witness today help others to know that love too. Amen.


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A Plumb Line

Reading: Amos 7: 7-9

Verse 8: “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”.

God has called Amos out of the field to be a prophet to his people. The people have been living in ways that are displeasing to God. The king has led the people astray and the priest has followed along. The king and priest and the people are comfortable, even happy, in the lifestyle that they have settled into. The practices of caring for the other – the widows, orphans, needy… – have all been laid aside. Amos has been sent to pronounce judgment.

Today’s passage begins with God standing by a wall that has been built perfectly true. The wall and it’s perfection represent the law. The law is what is just and true and right. God stands by his wall. He asks Amos what he sees. Amos is still faithful to God and to the law. He sees a plumb line showing the wall to be true. God says to Amos, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”. Amos is the plumb line. It is his voice that will try to call the people back to right and holy living. God will not spare them. Their hearts have become hard because they have come to love other things. Destruction and ruin will come. The voice of the prophet is not enough to fix all that is wrong.

In our world and perhaps in our lives we find much that is askew and wrong. For a long time the world has preached power and wealth and popularity. These things have been emphasized so long that they are the norm and they are embraced. To say that accumulating excessive wealth is wrong is looked at as abnormal today. The world sees self as #1 so to encourage people to care deeply for the needy draws odd looks. Amos’ world and our world are pretty similar.

In our world and in our lives, where is God calling us to apply the plumb line? Where can we make things align better with God and his plans?

Prayer: Lord, help me to search deeply within, to search for what needs to be set right. Give me the courage to change what needs changed. Go with me, O God. Amen.


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Parent God

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verse One: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”.

What were your parents like growing up? Were they kind and living and came to all of your activities? Were they hard-working and focused on providing for you? Were they the type that did not say “I love you” with words but certainly did with their actions? Were they overprotective or strict or were they too lenient? And… how did they affect how you parent or how you parented?

Today’s Psalm speaks of the ways that God is our parent. We often say something along the lines of “we’re all God’s children”, but do we really consider what that means? Today’s Psalm does! It begins with, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”. First, as our parent, God knows us inside out. God knows how we are feeling, what we are thinking, what we need and desire, … The psalmist goes on to remind us that God is “familiar with all of my ways” – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Our ways do not sway or change God’s love for us. As a loving parent, God’s love is always there for us. God balances who we are with who we are created to be, ever drawing us to the latter.

Verse four speaks of a loving parent who knows us so well that He knows the words before we even speak them. God really does know us inside out. Verse five reads, “You hem me in…”. It is not that God limits or controls us absolutely, but that God’s protection is ever around us. The Holy Spirit is also present, always leading and guiding us – when we are willing and receptive. God never forces or coerces us. We are as free to make poor decisions as we are to make decisions that please God.

Our passage closes with, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me”. It is hard to fathom just how good of a parent God is. Although we cannot fully understand the extent of God’s love, we can appreciate it. To God almighty, creator of the universe, parent to us all: thank you.


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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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Seeking and Searching

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16

Verse 11: “I will search for my sheep and look after them”.

Our relationship with God is a two-way street.  We are created by God with a spark of God inside each of us as we are created in His image.  From birth God reveals Himself to us through the world and through the people in our lives.  As we grow and mature, we begin to sense our need for something more in life, for God.  If one chooses a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then this need is filled with faith and with God.  some folks choose to try and fill the God-hole in their life with many other things, none of which ever satisfy, all leaving them searching.

Once we choose God over the things of this world, then we begin to seek more of God.  Our journey of faith becomes one of continual learning and growth.  We always seek to know Him more deeply, more intimately.  We spend time in His word, time in prayer, time in worship, and time in fellowship with other believers.  This all deepens and strengthens our faith and our relationship with Jesus, enriching our lives and bringing us His joy, love, peace, and hope.  In turn, God eventually calls us to go forth and share all of this love, hope, joy, and peace with others.

God also pursues us.  God desires to be in a relationship with all people.  This is what today’s Psalm is all about.  Verse eleven begins with these words, “I will search for my sheep and look after them”.  Jesus, our good shepherd, desires to search for, find, bring in, and care for all the sheep.  The psalmist goes on to explain how, writing, “I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered”.  This speaks both of us during those days or seasons when we have wandered and also of those  who have chosen the wide path of the world.  He seeks to call all people to Himself.  Once the call is heard, Jesus will “bring them back into their own land”.  He will connect us into communities of faith where we find encouragement, support, learning, unity, fellowship, a sense of belonging.

Our passage today ends with words of healing and restoration: “I will search for the lost and the strays.  I will bind up the inured and strengthen the weak”.  Jesus searches for and seeks out all, both the sinners and the saints.  Thanks be to God that Jesus has found you and me.  Thanks be to God that He always calls our name.  Thanks be to God that Jesus continues to search for the least and the lost.  Thanks be to God that Jesus seeks to bring them healing and restoration and to bring them into the family of God.  Thank you Jesus for your love.