pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Light Shines

Reading: Psalm. 80: 1-7

Verse 7: “Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

The Christmas season brings a wide range of emotions. For many it is a season of joy and celebration. We worship and rejoice in the birth of Jesus Christ. We exchange gifts as a reminder of the gift that Jesus was and is and as a way to express our love for one another. We enjoy a respite from work or school – an opportunity to recharge a bit.

But for some, this time of year is hard. A mother or father or child or sibling is not present at the regular holiday gatherings and their seat at the Christmas dinner table is empty. A void has been created by their passing and it seems especially sharp this time of year. In our seasonal joy let us not overlook or miss those who are struggling, those who are hurting. They could use an extra hug and some words of encouragement and love.

As the psalmist writes this Psalm, the people of Israel are hurting. He calls on God to “hear us” and to “awaken your might”. He wonders how much longer God’s anger will smolder. He longs for God to restore them. This is a hard place to be. This is where many folks are today. People feel alone this time of year. Many feel separated from God because of their grief. Many long for the dark to pass and for God to restore them as well.

The psalmist offers these words to the people: “Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”. The people who were suffering needed to hear these words of hope and faith. We all know folks who need to hear them today. With these, may we share these words. To these, may we be these words.

Prayer: Lord, hope abounds in you. Light shines forth from you. Your hope and light bring life to our darkness. May I bring your hope and light to others today. Amen.

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Our Assignment

Reading: Mark 13: 1-8

Verses 5 & 8: “Watch out that no one deceives you… nation will rise against nation… earthquakes and famine… these are the beginnings of birth pains”.

Leaving the temple, one of the disciples observes, “What magnificent buildings”! Jesus then indicates that a time is coming when “every stone will be thrown down”. A bit later, in private, the disciples want to know when this will happen. They want to know the signs so that they can be prepared for Jesus’ return.

Jesus gives them some signs to look for. In addition to wars, Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you… nation will rise against nation… earthquakes and famine… these are the beginnings of birth pains”. There will be deceivers – false prophets and teachers trying to gain power and wealth for themselves, hiding behind lies and fake religion. There will be wars where nations square off against one another. These wars will have many injuries, much destruction, and large loss of life. Nature will also be heard from – earthquakes! Masses will struggle as famine grips parts of the world. All if these will be signs – “birth pains” – indications that the end is drawing near.

Ever since these words were spoken and later recorded, many generations have read it, reflected on the words, and thought that the end is at hand. We do today as well. We have had no shortage of false teachers, wars, famines, disease, and natural disasters of all kinds. Yet here we remain. We continue to ask: when? The best answer is: when God is ready. God’s plan is unfolding according to God’s plan. That simple. I think a big part of the “not yet” is the work yet to be done by the church. There are many unsaved people that still need to hear the gospel and to experience the saving power of Jesus Christ. The Great Commission remains unfinished. Our assignment is still to make disciples of all peoples. When will the new creation come? Maybe when we have accomplished our assignment.

Prayer: Patient God, guide me to the next person that needs to hear the good news if your Son, Jesus Christ. And then guide me to the next and the next and the next… May it be so, all for your glory. Amen.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Luke 1: 26-38 and 46-55

Verse 28: “Greetings you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you!”

Do you remember the birth of your child or children?  It was an awesome experience!  Yes, there was great pain and perhaps it lasted too long, but at one point there was suddenly life when before there was none.  The baby emerges into the world and draws its first breath – life is born!  There is a sacredness to the moment that life is first brought into the world.  It is a holy moment when God is present.  It is something we will never forget.

When one steps away from the birth of our own children and we look at birth in general, it is still an amazing thing.  In each birth is the beginning of something new, therefore it is filled with excitement.  It is also filled with hope and dreaming.  Parents all over the world look at that newborn child and wonder about their son’s or daughter’s future and hope that it is blessed.

For Mary, the angel tells her she too is blessed.  The angel Gabriel says, “Greetings you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you!”  She will carry the One who will save the world from our sins and show us the way to enter into life eternal.  Likewise, her cousin Elizabeth carries a special baby.  She will give birth to John the Baptist, he who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.  For these two mothers, they know through the angel’s visit that children are something special.  This must ramp up their own sense of excitement and dreaming about the future.

Yet we know what Jesus and John will eventually experience.  Both of these precious babies will give their lives in obedience to God.  Both will suffer.  Both will die willingly for their God.  Both willingly die for the people they love – John for Jesus and Jesus for you and me.  We celebrate Jesus’ birth tomorrow night.  It is a birth orchestrated by God.  It is a holy birth.  It is a birth that brings hope and promise to all the world.  It is a birth that brings hope and promise to you and me.  It is a hope and promise not just for tomorrow night, but for forever.  Thanks be to God.  Amen!


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The Way

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Jesus’ life and story are marked by a few events that are very significant to our faith.  First, the incarnate birth – born partly human to a mother and partly divine to a heavenly father.  Born of a virgin, without sin since birth.  His birth and the events surrounding it indicate to us that Jesus is a unique and special gift from God.

At the end of His life, Jesus experiences two other significant events.  The resurrection and ascension come close together.  Between His holy birth and divine death, Jesus teaches and heals for about three years, providing us an example of how to live and love both God and our fellow man.

While Jesus did raise people from the dead during His earthly ministry, He raised them back to mortal life.  In the resurrection of Jesus, it was God who raised Jesus to immortal or heavenly life.  Jesus’ resurrection is significant for both of these reasons.  Just as God alone initiated Jesus’ human birth, God alone brings Jesus back home to heaven.  God welcomes Jesus back to His eternal home as Jesus returns to the Father.

The ascension, or returning to God’s right hand, is the second significant event at the end of Jesus’ earthly life.  Jesus tells Mary, “I am returning to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God.”  In this statement Jesus declares where He is going and also includes us in the relationship.  God is our Father and our God too.

As Jesus returns to His rightful place beside God, He returns changed.  He has lived on earth.  He has felt what we feel.  He returns to heaven and now intercedes for you and me.  He now stands between God and us.  The perfect lamb who was slain now offers mercy and forgiveness and grace.  He who was without sin now provides the way for us who struggle with sin the way to eternal life.  He ascended so that one day we too could ascend.  For this incomprehensible gift, we say  thanks be to God!

 


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His Promise

Job wrestles with the question many people wrestle with: why did this happen to me?  In general, we view the world as good and God as loving and caring.  Most people believe these things to be true.  Yet for most, believers included, we almost always ask the ‘why  question when unexplained or unjust suffering and trials come our way.  It is a natural question to ask.  We wrestle with this question, because at least a little, in our minds, we think that if we are faithful that no bad should come our way.  We track right along with Job’s thinking.  This too is a natural thought process.

In Job’s day the common understanding was that if evil or bad befell someone, it was because of sin.  For example, if one were blind it was because of sin in their life or in their parent’s life.  This idea is backed up by the experience of the nation of Israel.  Sin causes separation from God, then they experience trial, exile, or some other calamity.  The view that God blessed Israel with peace, victory… when they were faithful was also a dominant belief.  We mostly hold these beliefs today as well.  Good brings good and evil brings evil is still a common thought process.  It also holds generally true in life: if you are nice to someone, usually they are nice in return.  The reverse is also true.

Job was seen as righteous and good in his pre-trial life.  Once the bad befell him, his wife and friends assumed he had sinned.  They thought, Why else would God do this?  But Job knew he was still faithful, upright, blameless.  So he asked God the ‘why?’ question.  God’s response was big questions that did not really answers Job’s question.  God asked Job is he could bring floods or lightning or even rain.  He asked if he could provide prey for the lion or food for the raven.  He asked if Job was there at the creation of the earth.  The questions do not provide an answer but turn Job back inward.

God created a world that is good and has order and logic.  There is both good and evil.  Both must exist if we are to have free will.  God does not force us to obey Him or to be faithful to Him.  We do so out of love.  We love because He first loved us.  Love is our grateful response to the love God poured out in Jesus Christ.  In life there is free will and logical consequences.  The world was created as good, not as perfect.  Perfect will be the new heaven when Christ returns.  So some rains waters the crops and some rains flood the fields.  Illness and death are part of life.  So is birth and good health.  Like Job, in the midst of our pain and suffering we ask ‘why?’  But the answer is elusive.  It does not come in many cases.  But the promise we receive in Christ is not elusive: Jesus saves all who call on His name and through His saving grace we will all one day enter that perfect world.  Hold onto the promise.  Live the promise.  Share the promise.

Scripture reference: Job 38: 34-41


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True Light, Eternal Freedom

In Isaiah 9 we find a passage that bridges the time in which he was writing with the time when Jesus lived with our time today.It speaks of what was, what is, and what will be.  By virtue of its timelessness, it is perfect for today.

Throughout time people have craved for light to shine in the darkness, for evil to be overcome.  Isaiah’s words, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”, bring hope.  He writes about breaking the yoke of oppression, of ending the foreign dominance.  In Jesus’ day it was the Romans on one level and the religious leaders on another level.  Today the things that oppress us vary greatly – from the self-imposed to things out of our control.  Forever and always we will long for freedom.

Into the midst of the oppression and the longing for freedom from all that burdens us steps the Christ child.  Tonight we celebrate Jesus’ birth – the entrance of the True Light, the arrival of eternal freedom.  Embrace these truths as we gather tonight to welcome Him into the world and into our lives.

Isaiah 9: 2-7