pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Among Us

Reading: John 1: 1-6 and 19-28

Verse 26: “Among you stands one you do not know”.

John’s gospel begins in the beginning – literally – stating that Jesus was there at the beginning of it all.  Jesus is the creator, the giver of all life.  Jesus is the light that shines into the darkness.  Jesus has been present to mankind since the beginning of time.  For the Israelites, it feels almost that long that they have been waiting for the Messiah.  Their collective journey of faith has been long and winding, filled with ups and downs for a long time now.  And for a long time, hundreds of year now, they have been waiting for, longing for, anticipating the coming of the One.  It has been 400 years since the last prophet of God even spoke, so John the Baptist draws a crowd when he begins to preach and baptize out in the wilderness.

As a little buzz begins to grow around John, the religious leaders send out some investigators to find out just who John the Baptist really is.  It sort of sounds like he could be the One.  In response to the investigators initial question, John responds clearly, “I am not the Christ”.  For all real purposes, they quit listening.  But then they remember they were sent to find out, so they continue to ask who he is.  Okay then, who are you?  John tells them he is not Elijah returned or any other prophet that they know.  He simply tells them that he is the messenger that Isaiah prophesied.  John quotes from Isaiah 40, saying, “I am the voice of one calling out in the desert, ‘Make straight paths for the Lord'”.  Instead of hearing that the Messiah is about to emerge, they turn to other questioning, giving evidence that they did not really hear this answer either.  The religious leaders miss the point of why John is here.  It is not about John or what he is doing, it is about what is about to happen.  You’d think that for a people waiting hundreds of years for the Messiah, they’d be all over John’s news.

Many people are right here today, just where the religious leaders are.  They sense there must be more to life, they want more for their life, they sense the possibilities.  John says to the religious leaders, “Among you stands one you do not know”.  This remains true today.  Jesus is still right here, right now.  He stands among us.  May we, like John the Baptist, be the voices calling out in the wilderness today, helping others to know the One who stands among us, Jesus Christ.

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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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Are We Willing?

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.

Ezekiel is writing to a people who are discouraged and downtrodden.  They feel like the sheep he is describing who are lean, weak, and driven away.  The Israelites have been in exile for many years.  The years have separated them from each other and many of them from their faith.  Even those who did not go into exile have become mixed in with the people living around them.  Ezekiel looks at the people and sees their deep need for a shepherd to rise up who will gather the scattered flock, protecting the weak and poor among them while ruling with justice, compassion, and love.

The need for a good shepherd is very real today.  On a personal level, we need one to walk the walk of faith.  Our inner bent towards sin is in almost constant need of the voice of the good shepherd to guide is on the right path and to keep us from wandering off of the narrow way.  We also need the good shepherd to lead us where we should go at times – to those green pastures.  As we follow Jesus and His teachings and example, we are following the one true good shepherd.  As we follow, we in turn open ourselves up more and more to the voice of the good shepherd as we feel the nudges and hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

This voice calls us to the least and the lost.  It calls us to those who do not know the good shepherd.  The lost are wandering around in the darkness, going from one thing to another, never finding what they truly need.  Others are marginalized and struggle in the simple day to day of life.  The Holy Spirit calls us to them as well.  The least often cannot begin to hear the voice of the good shepherd calling out to them until their basic needs are met.  The need for shelter, food, and safety must be met before there is space for the good shepherd to speak into their lives.

The Good Shepherd says, “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.  He says this to us in our times of need and encouragement.  He calls us to help bring this message to those who are hurting and broken and lost and discouraged.  Are we willing?


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A Willingness

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 2: 1-8

Verse Two: With the help of God we dared to tell you His gospel in spite of strong opposition.

Having faith can be difficult.  What is happening to the Thessalonians happens to believers today.  Their faith is wavering, the voices of the world are clamoring, Jesus has not returned yet.  In the midst of all that life can bring, it can be easy to have our faith waver.  Those voices of the world and the temptations of Satan can put us hard to the test.  As we look around at the world and perhaps even at our own lives, we can long for Jesus to return to redeem all things.

The culture of Paul’s world and the culture of Thessalonica is much like ours today.  The Christians are a minority within a culture and society that worships many false idols and chases after many earthly pleasures.  It can be a dangerous place to preach the gospel.  It was in Paul’s day too.  Fresh off a testing and trying experience in Philippi, Paul declares, “With the help of God we dared to tell you His gospel in spite of strong opposition”.  Not one to be deterred, Paul fondly recalls sharing the gospel in Thessalonica.  At times we too must dare to share  the gospel.  For Paul, it was well-received and a strong church emerged.  This letter comes some time after the initial visit and Paul is writing to encourage and to teach this new group of believers.

Paul states a couple of different ways that God is the center of it all.  He speaks as a man approved by God and tested by God.  He speaks with God as his witness, never seeking praise or approval from men.  As we seek to engage the least and the lost of our communities, we too must begin here.  God must be at the core and we must lead out as God guides and directs, keeping our focus on God alone.  Paul says that he was “like a mother caring for her little children”.  This is the second imperative we get from today’s Word.  We must genuinely love those we share the gospel with.  This means a willingness to fully commit, to humbly serve, to offer all we can to help another grow closer to Jesus Christ.  May our focus be on God and on loving others as He first loved us; God will take care of the rest.


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Love and Justice and Mercy

Reading: Genesis 37: 1-4 and 12-28

Verse Four: They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Joseph is clearly the father’s favorite.  Israel loves Joseph more than any of his other sons.  In today’s passage, Israel makes Joseph a “richly ornamented robe”.  For a second, recall Joseph and his dreams of his brothers and even his father and mother bowing down to him.  For a second, recall Joseph’s penchant for tattling on his brothers.  Now Joseph waltzes in, showing off his new coat.  Joseph certainly plays up his favored son status.  His brother’s reaction?  “They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him”.

Later in our passage, Israel decides to send Joseph out to check on the others sons and the flocks.  He tells Joseph to “bring word back to me”.  As the brothers see Joseph coming, they plot to kill him.  In our society today, does this still happen?  Do some who live without look at those who have much with hatred and envy?  Thanks without may desire to do away with the ones with privilege and power, especially the ones who flaunt it.  So, when we go to the city to serve in the rescue mission, do those in line look at us this way?  If we act as if we are stooping down to do something ‘good’ or if we act aloof, certainly we are seen this way.  If we are unwilling to sit and hear another’s story, to communicate that they are worthy of our time and attention, then we remain distant and privileged.

Reuben speaks up for Joseph and plans to come back later to rescue him.  When violence and injustice and hatred arise today, do we act as Reuben acted?  Do we try and lessen it and plan on coming back later to partially address the situation?  Or do we stand up for what is righteous and choose to stand in the gap, saying ‘no more’?  At times we will see prejudice or hatred, injustice or abuse.  Then and there, do we addresd it fully?  Do we stand for those in need of our voice and courage?  Do we love and care for all as God loves and cares for all?  Or do we leave them in the cistern and hope to come back later?

O God of love and justice and mercy, make me an instrument of Your love and justice and mercy.


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Know and Follow

Reading: John 10: 1-7

Verses 3 and 4: …the sheep listen to his voice… his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

In a devotional I read, there is a story about sheep following their shepherd.  As the writer sat and observed, a real shepherd walked along a very narrow and dangerous path along a steep ridge.  One after another, several dozen sheep dutifully followed along the path.  One after another they walked along a path that none would have taken on their own.

This little snippet reveals much about the typical shepherd-sheep relationship.  First, the shepherd was willing to lead his flock through dangerous placed because he knew greener pastures lay ahead.  Second, the sheep knew and trusted the shepherd.  The sheep know their shepherd’s voice and will follow him where he leads.  In fact, sheep will run from a voice they do not know.  Third, the shepherd cares for his sheep.  He is bringing them to a place with good food.  He will protect the sheep, both along the journey and once they arrive. He will keep them together and will defend them for wolves, robbers, …  He genuinely cares for the sheep.

In our passage, Jesus is using the shepherd-sheep analogy to illustrate our preferred relationship with Him.  Jesus wants to be our shepherd.  He wants to lead us to “green pastures” – to life in the full.  He wants to protect us from the dangers and temptations of the world.  He was even willing to lay down His life to do so.  For our part, we are the sheep.  We need to know His voice.  We study His voice in the Bible and we learn to recognize it when the Spirit nudges and whispers to us.  We come to be able to differentiate Jesus’ voice from the many voices of the world.  These other voices are voices we should run from.  Once we come to know Jesus’ voice, He wants us to follow.  He will lead us well.  For our part this means doing what Jesus did and loving as Jesus loved.

May we know the Good Shepherd’s voice and may we follow where He leads.


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Good and Bad

Reading: Psalm 29

Our Psalm today begins by reminding us to give God the glory and to worship the Lord “in the splendor of His holiness”.  The Psalm continues and shares how God’s voice is powerful and majestic.  God’s voice thunders, flashes, and shakes and breaks the earth.  There is indeed much power in the voice of God – much like a huge thunderstorm that rolls in.  In the rolls of thunder that shake the house and in the flashes of lightning that illuminates everything, I gain a sense of God’s power.  It is unavoidable.  Even in the rains that fall, one sees God’s blessing and provision.

For me, it is easy to see God in the powerful thunderstorm.  But when the storms of life settle in, I can find it difficult to sense God is near.  I find this to be particularly true when the storm seems to rage for a period of time.  I feel a sense of being alone and I struggle to hear the powerful and majestic voice of God.  I allow the worries of the world to wash over my faith and to obscure the voice and presence of God.  And then I near the point of breaking, of drowning in the storm, and I cry out and reach out to the Lord our God.  And God is right there.  Has been all along.  I wonder why I didn’t seek God sooner.  God is always present – it was I who was absent.

After such storms, I am more aware of my constant need for God.  But as life returns to normal, I can drift again.  For me, prayer is the key to staying connected.  God desires a relationship that is 24-7-365.  God desires to be my God in the good and in the bad.  There is a song from the O.C. Supertones that reminds me of this.  The song is called Jury Duty.  The pre-chorus sings, “You know I haven’t had the best of days, but I want to stop and thank you anyway”.  Even on a bad day, God blesses us.  The chorus goes on to sing, “Cuz every single moment, whether sleeping or awake, is your creation, and what you’ve made is good.  I don’t always thank you for the rough days and the hard times in my life, even though I should”.  Even on those ‘jury duty’ days, we need to be in connection to God.  On those days especially!

O Lord, when I am tempted to just get on with the busyness of the day, slow me down and center me in prayer.  On those stormy days, help me to remember to bow to you and to worship in the splendor of your holiness.  And at the end of each day, whether good or bad, always draw me back to you, offering you my thanksgiving and praise.  May it be so each day.  Amen.