pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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That Big a Love

Reading: Luke 23: 32-43

Verse 34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.

In today’s passage we turn to Jesus on the cross. It is a place none of us would want to be. But it exactly where Jesus needed to be and wanted to be. Over the course of the last two days we have looked at how God’s plan unfolded in the births of John the Baptist and Jesus and of how God calls us to repent of our sins so that he can guide our steps. Today those plans and steps meet at Golgatha, the Skull.

The cross was a necessary step for Jesus and for us. It was how he became the sacrifice or atonement for our sins. Jesus hung there between two others – criminals being justly executed for their crimes. These two represent us. None of us are without sin. All of us deserve punishment. Some of the time we are like the one who hurls insults at Jesus Christ. In pride we say we can do this on our own. In arrogance we say we are the one in control. If we remain this criminal, we receive the punishment due. We can also be the other criminal. We recognize that an innocent and blameless man took upon himself our sins and died for us. We realize our own guilt and we come and kneel at the cross, begging for mercy and grace and forgiveness. In love, Jesus offers all of these gifts to us.

The cross was once for all. Once because it was the final atonement for our sins. The price then and now and until he returns has been paid in full. For all because Jesus died for every one of us. I believe Jesus would have died for just one of us. That’s how great his love is for each of us. But Jesus did not just take upon himself the sins of one man or woman. On Jesus hung all the sins past, present, and future. His was a sacrificial love great enough to bear all of that. It is still that big a love.

Whether we are near or far, whether we have allowed sin to separate us for a long time or just a few minutes, all we need to do is confess and repent. In love our sins are no more. Made holy and right again, we live one more day closer to hearing, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of grace, today I think of what Jesus did for me, a sinner undeserving of grace. That I was undeserving did not matter to Jesus. Thank you for this love so great. Help me to cling to it again today. Amen.


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Rise and Go

Reading: Luke 17: 11-19

Verses 12-13: “Ten men who had leprosy… stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us'”.

In our passage today, Jesus has compassion on a group of people living on the edge of society. The lepers are forced to live outside of the village. They are cut off from society. The disease they have has separated them from family and friends. The isolation causes them to call out to Jesus from a distance. The lepers have learned to stay isolated. Jesus simply directs them to go to the priests. As they demonstrate obedience, they are healed as they went. For these people who have been living outside of society, outside of the synagogues and the temple, to take steps toward these people and places – it must have been so hard. As they trust, they are healed by Jesus.

When our lives have been spotted by sin, we too can have a hard time taking those first steps back towards God. Until we get to the point where conviction leads to repentance, we can keep ourselves isolated from God. As people of faith, though, we know that we can repent and find mercy, grace, forgiveness, and restoration. Like the lepers, as we take those first obedient steps to confess and repent, we are cleansed of our sin and we are made new again. Praise be to God, right?

Yes and amen! Of course. But that cannot be all. Like the one leper who returned to Jesus, we too must have some responses. The first is to praise Jesus, to thank him over and over for the many works done in our lives. The second is to help others experience the healing power of Jesus Christ.

Our story of what Jesus has done for us is the story of what Jesus has done and can do for others. We each first live this out in our day to day lives, being Christ in the world. Our lifestyle is our first form of evangelism. But our story is also unique and specific. There are individuals out there that need to hear our story. This is our second response. To a fellow addict, to a fellow absentee father, to a fellow nominal Christian, to a fellow divorcee, to a fellow… our personal story of faith can bring those who are where we once were hope and new life. The leper was told, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well”. This too is our charge. May we live and tell our story well.

Prayer: Lord my God, thank you for your hand that has guided me, redirected me, convicted me, saved me. Your love for me is so amazing. Give me opportunities to share that love with others. Amen.


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Love Well

Reading: Psalm 66: 1-12

Verses 8 and 9: “Praise our God, O peoples… for he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”.

Psalm 66 is a song of praise to the Lord. It recognizes some of God’s mighty acts on behalf of the people of Israel. It speaks of how God has refined the people too. There is a corporate feel to the Psalm. But there is also a personal feel. Often when visiting the older members of our congregation, they express gratitude that God has granted them one more day. That spirit also exists in the Psalm.

Many will come to worship in an attitude of gratitude. They enter the sacred space ready to rejoice and to praise the Lord. But each time we gather for worship some come with burdens or grief to bear. The recent loss of a loved one still stings. The news of cancer or some other illness is still rocking their world. The pressures of school and/or sports feels like a heavy weight upon their shoulders. These folks feel like they are in the refining fire or that the water has risen pretty high in their lives. Some will share their burden or grief yet will still leave with it. They are the ones that really need to hear the story of what God has done and can do. They come to worship seeking a little hope.

In verses eight and nine we read, “Praise our God, O peoples… for he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”. For most of us, this is where we are. We’ve not always been here though. Because life is life we all can relate to those who question their situation, who question God, who do not feel that they are standing on a solid foundation. Because we have been there, we can provide encouragement and we can offer the hope of Jesus Christ to those with burdens or grief. To know that God is good and to be reminded of God’s love helps them to take one step forward. As people of God, may we love well those that are most in need.

Prayer: God, you are abundant in your love. Your mercies keep coming, new every morning. My life is the story of “come and see what God has done”. Help me to share that story well, introducing others to what you can and want to do in their lives. Amen.


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Walk the Walk

Reading: Jeremiah 32: 1-3a and 6-15

Verses 8-9: “So I knew that this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth”.

Jeremiah knows that God has spoken into his life. Much of the time when God has spoken it has been to give him words to share with the people of Israel. In general his words have called them to action or to repentance. Today God is asking Jeremiah to trust God enough to put a little of his own skin in the game. Jeremiah speaks words of hope and promise at the end of our passage today: “Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in the land”. God is not done yet. One day God will bring the people back from exile. God is now asking Jeremiah if he will prove that he believes this by his actions.

In faith and trust in God, Jeremiah steps up and out. He says from the heart, “So I knew that this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth”. Jeremiah clearly understands that God is speaking to him and was leading him to action. Jeremiah dug down into his pocket and ponied up some silver to buy this field. It is a concrete example that will give deeper meaning to the promise that God will one day restore Israel.

God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, will try and lead us into action too. In our efforts to share the good news we too must often lead with action. The phrase “people don’t care how much you know until they know you care” certainly applies to faith. Some people will not hear the good news of Jesus’ love until they see that love demonstrated. When they can see and feel and experience his love, then they are more open to hearing about the faith that drives our love. Just as it was with Jeremiah, to demonstrate God’s love and promises, we too must make an investment.

We can invest in others in many ways. It can be by digging into our pockets to invest in the work of the kingdom here on earth. It can be by giving our time to help someone with a task or by taking the time to teach a new skill. It can be by sharing life with someone who is struggling. It can be by being present to one after a loss, just being with them. It can be by witnessing to our faith by the way we live out our everyday lives. There are many ways that we can walk the walk of faith. How will you do so?

Prayer: God, it is easy to say “love your neighbor” or to say I love you with all that I am. Talk is cheap. It is easy. So I ask you to lead me to invest in another’s life today. Amen.


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Step in Faith

Reading: Jeremiah 32: 1-3a and 6-15

Verse 6: “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel… is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anatheth'”.

As our passage opens, we learn three important facts. First, the word of the Lord again came to Jeremiah. Second, the Babylonians that Jeremiah had prophesied about are now beseiging Jerusalem. Third, King Hezekiah has imprisoned Jeremiah for said prophecy. Life does not seem very good for Jeremiah. It is with this knowledge that we read verse six: “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel… is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anatheth'”. In so many ways this does not seem like a good idea. Jeremiah has warned the people – telling them that the Babylonians will win and will haul many off into exile. He knows that the exile will be long. So, buy some land?

God is always at work, often in ways that we either don’t realize or don’t understand. Because of more limited resources and a desire to more efficiently serve a smaller client base, our church lost our client relationship with this agency. The decision was then made to end a fellowship meal that was made possible because of the food we had been receiving from this agency. Almost immediately God began to work in my heart to do something new. The idea of starting a marriage makers group for young couples rose up in my heart. Driving to a conference last weekend, God planted another seed. I had arranged to have coffee or lunch with some youth who were at the college hosting the event. But one that I reached out to shared that they were taking a year off and were actually home. Thinking about her led me to think of other college-aged kids from church who were also in town. God posed this question: what about a Bible study for our young adults? My initial thought to both of these whispers was: now? Maybe not the greatest timing God? Yet in my heart I know God is right. ‘Trust me’ is the echo I keep hearing.

What land purchase as war wages around you is God leading you to? Where is God asking you to take on more when often you feel overwhelmed? God promises to provide the way. When we have the faith and courage to walk where God is leading, God will walk with us. We may not know the whole plan or even the next step, but God does. When the word of the Lord comes, may we step out in faith, finding God’s presence and strength as we go.

Prayer: Guiding God, thank you for giving me a heart for ministry. Reveal to me the next steps to minister to our young couples and to our young adults. Bring me the words of invitation and show me the plan to follow. If it’s just one step at a time, help me to step forward with you. Amen.


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Hard Decisions, Challenging Steps

Reading: Psalm 79: 1-4

Verse 4: “We are objects of reproach to our neighbors”.

The Babylonians invaded Israel and left a wake of death and destruction in their path. In Jerusalem, the city walls were destroyed and the temple was leveled. For the Babylonians this was just one more nation to conquer. But for the Israelites, the killing was the murder of God’s chosen people and the destruction of the temple was the defilement of God’s home. What is left is not a pretty sight. “They have poured out blood like water” paints a grim picture. To add insult to injury, “we are objects of reproach to our neighbors”. The tribes around them mock what is left of Israel.

As people of God living in an increasingly non-Christian world, we can have similar experiences and emotions. In parts of our world Christians face persecution and even death. In most of our lives, however, persecution does not rise nearly to that level. Yet being a Christian is not always easy in our modern, secular world. Many of the more recent cultural norms are decidedly anti-Christian. The rugged individualism of the past and the me-first attitude of today combine to make being a humble servant countercultural and difficult. To think less of yourself and more of others can lead to questioning and ridicule. To refuse to be immoral or unethical at work can cost one promotions and can draw the ire of those above you.

Satan works in these and in many other ways to draw us away from God and into the ways of the world. It can be hard to look at what your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are doing and to not want to go along. Inside we all have a strong desire to fit in, to belong, to be liked. At times our faith will deny us these things. Something else inside of us – the Holy Spirit – is also at work to lead and guide us to be faithful and true to the Lord our God. One day we too will be poured out and will breathe our last. But between now and then may we make the hard decisions and take the challenging steps to walk as a child of the light in a world of darkness. May we live a life worthy of the one who called us, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Guiding God, sometimes it can be tempting to go along with the crowd or to say what pleases. Keep me ever focused on your will and your ways in my life. Hold my hand as I try to walk as a humble servant today. Amen.