pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Way

Reading: Isaiah 35: 1-10

Verse 8: “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness”.

Isaiah 35 paints a picture of hope for all peoples. For those of Isaiah’s time, those living in captivity in Babylon would envision a future back in the Promised Land with hope. For the Jews living in Jesus’ day, they would envision a future of hope too. Their vision would not include the Romans or any other overlord. For Christians living today, we read this passage and envision a day when all of creation is restored to new life. For each group, the Messiah is the focal point. The one who frees and brings healing and wholeness is what is awaited.

Isaiah writes, “the wilderness will rejoice and blossom”. What was dry and without life will flow with water and new life will spring up. The shoot from the stump of Jesse – that which we just read about in Isaiah 11 and Romans 15 – will bring healing to all things. As believers in Jesus Christ, we know that the Messiah has come. Jesus brought life to our dryness and his living waters bubble up within us, like springs in the desert, renewing and refreshing us.

In verse eight we read, “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness”. As followers of Jesus Christ we know this highway. In repentance and faithful obedience we walk this road every day. It is not an eight lane super highway. It is a narrow path. While it is narrow his yoke is easy and the burden light. Once we enter the Way of Holiness, life lived in Christ, the journey becomes purposeful and the steps are clear. The steps are not always easy to take, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, they are clear. It is a road that once walked brings joy, love, hope, peace, and so much more. As we walk in the Way, we approach Zion and the everlasting crown referred to at the end of Isaiah 35. May the Lord bless the journey today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for walking with me. Because you are always there, I never go alone. Thank you for your abiding presence and guiding Spirit. Lead me today, O great Jehovah. Amen.


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God’s Rain

Reading: Joel 2: 23-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other”.

The nation of Israel has experienced a time of hardship. Their sinful ways brought a great army of locusts upon the land. The nation ignored God’s call to repentance and the invasion devastated the land. The condition of the land matched the people’s spirits. Yet God still loves the people and will not abandon them in their despair. To the nation’s despair, Joel brings a word of hope.

Our lives can be a microcosm of what is happening in the book of Joel. Our time of hardship may be like Israel’s – brought on by our willful disobedience to God. It could be brought on by the winds of life: an unexpected loss, an illness, or something someone else does. It could just be a season of dryness, where we have drifted away from the faith. Our spirits become parched and dry. God does not leave us here either. God brings words of hope and healing into our lives as well.

Joel speaks hope into the people’s lives by telling them that God will bring “abundant showers”. These rains will lead to full threshing floors and to new wine and oil overflowing the vats. God’s rain will bring plenty to the nation. In response, the people will “praise the name of the Lord”. God will draw them back into relationship. All will be good again. God says to the nation, “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other”. There will be no mistaking the fact that God is in the land. Israel will be restored and God’s blessings will be evident.

God rains down his word to us too when we are in that dry and parched place. It may come in the love and care showered upon you after a traumatic event. It may come in the friend who gently reaches out to reengage you in church or study or prayer. It may be the Holy Spirit gently stirring your soul, stoking the fires of faith once again. God desires to fill us too, bringing abundant love to bear upon our lives. Then we too will know, God is in our hearts and is the Lord our God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, when I recall those dry seasons, those times of testing, you were always there. It may have taken time for me to see it or to realize it, but you were there. I praise you for the unending love that you rain down upon me. You are the one true God – my God and King. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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God Restores

Reading: Psalm 126: 4-6

Verse 5: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

In our song of ascent this week we acknowledge with the psalmist that life is not always rosy. There will be times when it feels like our fortunes need restored too. The Negev is a dry, desert-like place in the southern part of Israel. There are many dry stream beds that flow only during the seasonal rains. In the understanding of the day, when God sends rain, it restores life and all are blessed. Looking to God in our dry or testing times can remind us of how God has restored us before and brought life back to us. To ask God to do that again is to remind ourselves that God is faithful and loving and will respond once again.

In verse 5 the psalmist writes, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”. In our day to day lives, the real world continues along. The sun will rise soon this morning, bringing light and warmth to the earth. The rains will perhaps fall here today and will push on to the east later in the day. All over the community students will make their way to school and adults will go to work. Some will go with a sadness or a hurt because of a situation or circumstance in their own lives. In our Psalm, some go out to work to sow seeds because that is what needs done that day. Some of these sow in tears. But like the rains that refresh the desert and bring life, God will restore the fortunes of those who weep. They will find joy in life and will harvest with songs of joy. They will bring in the sheaves with joy because God has poured down His blessings into their souls and lives with His presence and love and provision.

In our memory banks we can recall dry seasons that we have walked through. As people of faith we store them up not to remember the trials but to remind ourselves of how God was present in the trial and of how God led us past or out of the trial. We remember how God’s blessings restored our faith over and over. We build hope and trust in God’s continued love and care and provision from this day forevermore. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, you are so faithful and so good to me. Over and over again you have restored me and brought joy and hope back into my life. Thank you also for my times in the desert because there I come to know you face to face. Amen.


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Remember

Reading: Joshua 5: 9-12

Verse 10: “The Israelites celebrated the Passover”.

After crossing into the Promised Land, the Israelites set up camp. They have just witnessed another miracle. God led the people through once again. Although at “full flood stage”, the people walked across on dry ground. As soon as all had crossed over, the waters returned to flood stage. They built an altar from 12 stones from the river bed to remember this miracle. Then they set up camp and, “the Israelites celebrated the Passover”. This is another remembrance. The yearly festival is a celebration of how God freed them from captivity as slaves in Egypt and led them out of Egypt.

The Passover is a remembrance of all the details of the time when God acted on behalf of His people. This celebration reminds the people of both the power of God and of His love for them. As children of God we too celebrate and remember experiences and moments when God has acted on our behalf. We remember to remind ourselves of God’s love for us. This is why we celebrate Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost… These are powerful movements of God. These reveal God’s love for us. Like the Israelites and Passover, we celebrate these events each and every year. We also have movements of God that we celebrate more frequently. Churches regularly celebrate communion. All of these events that we celebrate remind us of God’s power and of His love for us.

As children of God, we all have personal experiences that also remind us of God’s love and power. Our God is a great God who acts in mighty ways. Some of the time, these are personal. God is involved in the details of our lives. We have moments and experiences when we encounter God in our lives. That night in the balcony at church, that afternoon in the emergency room, that morning atop the mountain, those days in worship. We can all remember times when our God came up close and became intimately personal. We store those away in our hearts and we remember them in our minds.

When were your moments? How has God been up close and personal with you? Take a moment or two to remember and give thanks to the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord, you have been present in many ways. I thank you that over and over, at just the right time, you have come to me in real and personal ways. Continue to do so over and over again. Ever be my God. Amen.


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Breath and Hope

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Verse 14: I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.

Ezekiel is living amongst and speaking to a people living in exile.  They were carried off long ago and feel as if they have been living in exile forever.  The people of Israel cry out, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off”.  There is great sadness in these verses.  It is very difficult to live without hope.

As Ezekiel prophesies, the scattered bones come together as tendon, flesh, and skin covers them.  They are capable of having life now but there is no breath in them.  They are flesh and bone, but that is all.  At this point they represent Israel in exile.  Living but not truly having life can also represent many we know ourselves.  Yes, they are physically alive – they go to work, spend time with their families and friends, maybe even play on your softball team.  But they only know earthly life; they do not know or live for anything outside of the here and now.

For the Israelites in exile, life has become about simply surviving in the day to day.  They are barely getting by.  They feel ‘cut off completely’ from God and all they knew back home.  It is hard to live without hope and they are fast losing hope.  God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy that the breath of God enter the dry bones and flesh so that they would have life.  Ezekiel does this and a vast army arises.  This is the vision Ezekiel brings back to the people living in exile, to a people fast losing hope.  In this, the people know that God has heard their cry and that He will respond.  It brings much needed hope to the nation of Israel.

In a very similar way, we too can offer hope to those we know who are alive but only in the earthly sense.  We too can share the hope that comes when one lives with Jesus as Lord and Savior.  We too can share the joy that comes when the Spirit of God enters our hearts and brings us each the hope of eternal life.  May we each seek to be spreaders of the Word of God to those living in exile, so that they too may know abundant life in Christ in this place and eternal life with Him in the life to come.


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Hope and Restoration

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Verse 3: He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live”?

Ezekiel walks and walks amongst​ the dry bones.  There are literally millions of Bones strewn across the valley – enough to make a vast army.  As he walks among the bones, to him they are at first just dry old bones scattered across the valley.  There are no grave markers to identify who exactly is where.  These bones are symbolic of Israel.  The bones and their dryness indicate the state of Israel in exile.  They are long in exile and have lost touch with the faith and with God.  The bones coming back to life and standing as a vast army is symbolic of how God will bring His people out if exile one day and will restore them as a nation.

In sending Ezekiel among the dry bones, God is acknowledging the state of affairs with His chosen people.  All are cognizant that their choices, their sins, have led to where they currently find themselves.  It is what it is.  But in this vision, God is saying, “I am not done with you yet.  This is not the end of the story.  I will restore you.  I love you”.  God see what will be once again.  God wants to share this hope with Ezekiel, His prophet to the people, so that the people can hold onto and look towards hope and restoration.

Isn’t this still the story today?  Isn’t this still the message that all who are ‘dry’ or are out in the valley need to hear today?  There are lots of people who feel lost or not connected to God.  They desperately need the breath of life to breathe into them.  There are lots who feel defeated.  They need God to pick them up, to strengthen them, so that they can stand once again.  There are others who feel that God has forgotten or abandoned them.  They need to be reconnected to the source of life.  There are many who need to hear the story.  There are many.  Who will you share the story if hope and restoration with today?


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Step into the Desert

Reading: Psalm 63: 1-8

The desert or wilderness is a common location in the Bible.  A sinful Adam and Eve were sent out into the wilderness.  The Israelites wander in the desert for forty years, constantly testing God and then repenting.  It was in the wilderness that John baptized and that Jesus was tempted.  At times in our lives we too find ourselves in the desert.

In the psalmist today, David experiences the desert as a dry and weary land.  It is tough to survive in the desert; we are tested in that struggle to survive.  In those dry seasons in the desert or out in the harsh wilderness, we feel tested and we often long for relief.  For David, the physical thirst in the desert reminded him of his spiritual thirst for God.  Our times in the desert reminded us too of our need for God.  In verses 2-8 we read over and over of David’s singing to and glorifying God for His power, love, provision, and strength.  In our dry seasons we too can experience these blessings of God.  He longs to pour them out upon us as well.

Lent is a time when we remember Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness.  Lent invites us to join Jesus there as well. In the desert we can more clearly see the temptations we are facing.  In the desert we can come to rely more on God in those battles.

The desert can be a beautiful place as well.  In the stillness of the desert we can more easily hear His voice.  In the vast, wide open expanse we can more easily experience His majesty.  In the dark night sky we can see the splendor and might of His creation.

Maybe we find ourselves in the desert for an unpleasant reason.  If so, allow that deep need for God to be honestly felt and then joyously welcome Him in.  If our time in the desert is by choice, revel in God’s power, might, and presence.  Step into the desert, embrace it.  In a space with just you and God, draw close to Him.  Be blessed.