pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Marked Beloved

Reading: Matthew 3: 13-17

Verse 16: “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”.

John the Baptist has been in the wilderness, baptizing people in the Jordan River. He offers a baptism of repentance, helping people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. People confess their sins and commit to walking “straight paths”. This walk yields the “fruit in keeping with repentance” that John references. In our passage today, Jesus comes to be baptized. John has just finished explaining how he baptizes with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. That is why John says in today’s text, “I need to be baptized by you”. Never mind that Jesus is without sin and does not “need” a baptism of repentance!

Jesus insists and John acquiesces, baptizing Jesus. Validation comes. In verse sixteen we read, “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”. Jesus’ baptism is a sign that he is ready to begin to live a new life of obedience to God’s will and ways. It is a step to beginning his formal ministry. The voice of God responds with words of identification as God’s Son, the beloved. From this initial step, Jesus is led out into the wilderness for forty days. There Jesus is tempted by Satan.

Baptism today incorporates much of what we read in John 3. Many believe baptism is the “right” thing to do as one enters the Christian life. Water is still the medium and it still represents the cleansing of sin and the commitment to die to the old earthly self. One moves forward dedicated to walking out a life of faith. The Holy Spirit is a vital part of baptism today – it is what “lights” upon us as the seal of being marked as a son or daughter of God. The Holy Spirit enters the life of the baptized, much as it did when Jesus was baptized. Through baptism one is marked as a beloved member of the community of faith. After baptism one enters the world, prepared to daily battle with temptation and sin.

As we enter the world today may we remember our baptism and our place as beloved in the family of God. Be strengthened and encouraged today, for you are loved!

Prayer: God of all the beloved children, be present to me today as I enter the world. Lead and guide my words and actions. Keep me from temptation. Thank you for your love and acceptance. Amen.


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Epiphany Moments

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

Verse 11: “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him”.

Today is Epiphany!! An epiphany is a “sudden and profound understanding” of something. In the Christian church, Epiphany, or the feast of the Magi, celebrates the visit of the wise men to the Messiah. The original Epiphany had celebrated the baptism of Jesus, when God gave those present and all who would read the account the sudden and profound understanding that Jesus Christ is God’s son. With said understanding came the directive to listen to him.

The visit of the Magi became the focus of Epiphany in early church times. Looking back on the early story, the church came to realize the true epiphany in the story – Jesus Christ came for the whole world. These men from the far east would certainly be seen as Gentiles. They were clearly outside the Jewish faith. Yet God called them. Through a sign in the heavens – a new star – one that God knew would get their attention, God called. Using their belief that the world and nature reveal things to humanity, God led the Magi to come and see the newborn Jesus.

Following the star was the Magi’s natural instinct. Once they arrived, something else took over. We read, “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him”. Jesus was not on a throne. He did not dwell in a palace. Nothing about his surroundings or his mother or his economic status would ever suggest “king”. Yet in great joy they knew – this is the one! They worshipped and gave gifts. Guided by God, they then return to their country.

Today or tomorrow or the next day, when we have an epiphany moment, seeing God anew or in the face of one we encounter, will we too stop and praise God? Will we even recognize the hand of the divine at work? If we, like the Magi, head out seeking God, then God will find us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of all nations and all people, thank you for being such an inviting and welcoming God. You brought the Magi in, you welcome sinners like me. Your love abounds for all people. May my love look a little like your love. Amen.


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A Sign

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-14

Verse 12: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”.

King Ahaz is an ungodly king who has tried to solve the issues facing him with his own power and intelligence. Ahaz thought himself capable of protecting himself and Judah against the coming tide of Assyria. In spite of his arrogance and disobedience, God still reaches out to him. Out of the depths of his love for this lost soul and for Judah, the remnant of his chosen people, God offers himself to Ahaz. The Lord encourages Ahaz to ask for a sign, indicating that God is still ready to act.

Just as it was with Ahaz, sin separates us from God and from one another. Even when our sin is relatively “short term” we can stay away from or can be reluctant to go to God. Our guilt or shame makes us feel unworthy. When our sin has become a habit or has slid into a season in life, then our alienation grows stronger, the separation deeper. Ahaz has walked disobediently for a while. In his mind maybe he thinks he does not deserve to ask God a question. Or maybe he fears God’s answer. Maybe, just maybe, he does not want to ask because he believes he can still figure it all out.

These possible scenarios might sound familiar. It was not hard for me to imagine why Ahaz might have responded as he did, saying, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”. We have all been there. Yet in spite of the long disobedience, in spite of refusing to humble himself in God’s presence, in spite of it all, God still reaches out. What a loving God. What an amazing God.

The sign God gives is a sign of hope and promise. In spite of all that Ahaz and Judah have done (and not done), God promises a son, born of a virgin, to be Immanuel – God with us. This sign, this hope, this promise will be much more than God simply reaching out through a prophet. The sign, hope, and promise came and dwelt among us. Thanks be to God. Hallelujah!

Prayer: Lord God, your love is often hard to really understand. Whether it is a little stumble or something more major, your love and grace and mercy are always there, ready to be poured out upon me. It is a love that is hard to comprehend. Even so, it is a love you offer, time and again. Thank you so much for loving a sinner like me. Amen.


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True Transformation

Reading: Psalm 72: 1-7 and 18-19

Verse 4: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”.

Psalm 72 picks up on the themes of Isaiah 11. God’s “royal son” will rule with righteousness and justice. There will be prosperity for the land. This ideal leader “will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”. The poor and needy, the marginalized and outcast, will share in the blessings that come with prosperity. The rich will not simply get richer. The good ruler insures that all are included in the blessings.

The psalmist compares the falling rain to the good ruler’s reign. The rain falls on the whole land – on the good and the bad, on the rich and the poor. In the same way, a good ruler’s efforts fall on all people. Because the good ruler cares for all people, it breeds compassion amongst the people. The ones who have prospered, the ones who have been blessed, become blessings to those without. A good ruler influences the people. A generous ruler soon leads generous people. An empathetic ruler soon leads empathetic people.

We follow a leader who was generous and compassionate, who had a special love for the poor and needy, who cared for and was a blessing to all people. If we are true followers, we will be generous, compassionate… We have the power to be God’s light and love in the world. We can feed the needy, stand up for those on the margins…

In verse eighteen we get a good reminder: God alone “does miraculous deeds”. The changing of hearts, the healing of brokenness, the breaking down of walls – this is the stuff of God, not us. We can do much good in the world on our own. True transformation comes only when God is involved. We can do our part and it is often necessary. God alone changes lives. May our lives tell the story of Jesus and his love. In the process may we be blessed to see the Lord of all at work transforming hearts.

Prayer: God of love and compassion, use me today. Allow me to bear witness to your blessings in my life. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to say and do as you will. Work in the lives of the lost and broken today, O God! Build your kingdom of love in this time and place. Build it in me. Amen.


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Welcome and Hospitality

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

Verses 5 and 6: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”.

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles invites them to become a part of the society that they have been forced into. It can be the tendency to try and remain isolated and to hold onto what makes one unique. Thinking back to the high point of immigration in the US, for example, cities had ethnic neighborhoods like Little Italy and Chinatown. In some cases whole towns had a mostly homogeneous ethnic make-up. In our passage today, God is encouraging the Israelites to become a part of where they are. They are instructed to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”. They are to live with and amongst their new neighbors.

Today we have both immigrants and refugees that come to the US. The refugees are most like the exiles because these groups tend to arrive in significant numbers. There are often language barriers and usually social and cultural differences as well. These factors tend to isolate us from our new neighbors and vice versa. But they do not have to. A little north and east of the town I live in is a town that welcomes refugees and immigrants. The school system works hard to help the children and the community provides employment opportunities for the adults. Churches play a role in the acclimation process in a number of ways. The Latino and Hmong people have enriched and have helped the whole community to thrive. They are not without instances of prejudice and intolerance, but overall it is a successful experiment. They are modeling well Jesus’ example of loving the other.

In almost all of our communities we have new people move in. In my town they usually come from another town in or near South Dakota, but occasionally they are from further abroad. In these cases, we too should extend welcome and hospitality to them. We as Christians should do what we can to help them succeed and flourish because when they prosper, we prosper too – not just economically but socially and spiritually as well.

As individuals, as churches, and as communities, may we be people of love, extending radical hospitality to all we meet. In doing so we also extend God’s love.

Prayer: Father of all, help me to be a friend to all. Empower me to love others unconditionally, just as you love me. Create in me generous hands and feet and a giving heart, just as Jesus modeled for us. Thank you, Father God. Amen.


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All in All

Reading: Colossians 3: 1-11

Verse 1: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above”.

Paul is writing to the Colossian church. He opens the letter in chapter one with prayers for the church, reminds them that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and that they have been reconciled to God through Christ’s death and resurrection. In chapter two Paul reminds them that they must claim their faith and that he is praying for them. In my Bible, today’s section is titled “Rules for Holy Living”. Understanding these ‘rules’ is a gradual and evolving process. For most of us, this is a slow but steady lifelong process.

When I first met David I had no idea who he had been. Maybe the long hair and slightly loud personality could have hinted at his story. David had church in his childhood but stepped away in his early adult years. His life had become one of fast cars, fast boats, and a fast life. David had money and became involved in the drug world. Soon he was always racing to stay a step ahead of the law. He wove into his story that his mom and grandma were always praying for him. Then one day, in a face to face with mortality and the finite nature of the life he knew, David reached out to God in desperation. God reached back. It began David on the journey to being a servant of Jesus Christ.

In Colossians 3 Paul writes, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above”. The people in the Colossian church had died to the world and were raised to new life in Christ. In verse two Paul also encourages them to set things minds on the things above. In verses five and eight Paul lists several things to not do and lists things to be rid of. These are the things of the world. These are the things many people chase after.

It is hard to set these aside and to always put on the things above. It is, in fact, impossible to do on our own. In verses nine and ten Paul shows how God makes it possible. In Christ we can take off the old self and put on the new self. The new self is renewed day by day. This is part of our lifelong faith journey. Paul concludes our passage today by writing, “Christ is all and is in all”. That became true for my friend David, it is becoming true for me, and it can become true for you. May it be so.

Prayer: God, I am far from perfect but I strive to become more like your perfect son every day. Fill me more with Jesus day by day, making Christ my all in all. Amen.


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You Are gods

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 6: “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”.

Our Psalm opens with the God of the universe questioning the ‘gods’. God asks them how long will they defend the unjust and show favor to the wicked? This idea ran through yesterday’s reading. It is why God sent Amos to speak against the actions of the king. In our lives, do we ever defend the unjust? In our lives, do we ever favor the wicked?

The psalmist goes on to define God’s preferred behavior for the ‘gods’. First, they must “defend the case of the weak and fatherless”. Speak against injustice and poor treatment. Second, “maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed”. Stand beside those who cannot stand up for themselves. Third, “rescue the weak and needy”. When the unfortunate have fallen victim or are suffering, step in to rescue and redeem them. And lastly, “deliver them from the hand of the wicked”. Place yourself between the unjust and wicked and deliver the marginalized out from their abuse and I’ll treatment. Place yourself in the line of fire.

These behaviors or actions that we hear the psalmist calling for in verses 3 and 4 sound a lot like Jesus to me. He was certainly on the side of the marginalized and the poor. Jesus definitely spoke out against the people and institutions that created or allowed for the lesser treatment of people. Much of Jesus’ ministry focused on loving and caring for and restoring the other. It should be no surprise that in speaking God’s word the psalmist directs the ‘gods’ to do the same things that Jesus did.

In verse 6 the psalmist writes, “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”. We Christians, we who have claimed our eternal inheritance as sons and daughters of the Most High, we who have claimed our birthright as brothers and sisters with Christ, we are the ‘gods’ that the psalmist addresses today. Accordingly, may we choose to side with the poor and needy. May we speak up for the abused and oppressed. May we stand against people and institutions that take advantage of the weak. In short, may we walk as Jesus Christ walked.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the needs in my community. Fill me heart with compassion and with courage to walk with the marginalized and the weak. Help me to live as Jesus lived each day. Amen.