pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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New Life Blooms

Reading: Isaiah 35: 1-10

Verse 10: “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away”.

In my Bible today’s chapter is titled “Joy of the Redeemed”. The first two lines speaks of redeeming creation – new life blooms in the desert. The next two lines speak of redeeming God’s people. God will strengthen the feeble and the fearful. Both of these stanzas are about God’s desire and efforts to bring new life and wholeness to all of creation. For a nation laid waste and a people feeling that all was lost, these words would be full of meaning.

In verse five and the first part of six, Isaiah gets more personal with those most in need of healing and wholeness. These infirmities would keep these folks outside of true community, so their isolation would feel even greater and their vulnerability would be increased. Isaiah tells them that the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the mute will also be restored. These physical healings will lead to emotional and spiritual restoration too. Even today this is the order we most often experience. Physical needs must be met first. It is true in our schools, in our churches, in our shelters…

Isaiah continues in verse six and into seven with the physical restoration of the created world. But like the crocus blooming in the desert, these words can be read figuratively as well. Water represents new life in the faith of the people. The spring is their renewed faith bubbling up. In the haunts where evil once lay, new growth will come. Into a dry and weary people God will bring forth new life and hope.

These words of hope and promise still apply to God’s people, to our lives and our times as well. In those seasons where grief or trial or testing make our faith and life feel dry, when we are weary of the hard road we’ve been trudging, we too can recall that God still reigns, that God still desires good for us, that our redeemer lives. With God’s presence and surrounded by our faith communities, we can step forward and walk where only the redeemed and restored walk. We walk forward, uplifted on our earthly journey, one eye on our imperishable inheritance. With gladness and joy overtaking us, with sorrow and sighing falling away, we bear witness to our faith in this life and in the new life to come. We know the joy of the redeemed. May we walk in it all of our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, it is good to remember my place in your family. You have claimed me since before I was born. I confess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I know your joy. I live in your strength. I eagerly await the crown of life. You are my God. I am so thankful. Amen.


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See and Engage

Reading: Luke 13: 10-13

Verse 12: “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity'”.

Perhaps you know someone like this woman. They are limited by some ailment – at least from most people’s perspectives. Like this woman, they mostly live on the fringes of society. She would have been unable to work and would have relied on family or the kindness of others. To some this is a burden, pushing her closer to the fringe. The common understanding is that she is crippled by a spirit – another reason to avoid her. To many on the periphery of her life, she would have long ago blended in. Those in the synagogue probably don’t notice her coming and going most days. Today there are people just like this woman.

Over the years I have helped lead a few high school mission trips. Without fail we meet people like this woman. Their ailment might be physical, like hers. But more often than not it is emotional. They might have a mental illness or a traumatic experience has impacted them. Once in a while the person is simply very different and this creates the barrier. There is also something that happens without fail. A youth or a group of youth will come back from a day of serving and will share that “that guy” or “that woman” is a really neat person or that they have a really cool life story. Almost all of the time they shift to calling them by name part way through the retelling and that almost always ends with some version of a “he/she is just like us” statement.

In order for all that to happen, at least two things must occur. First, the youth(s) must be willing to see the other. Second, they must be willing to engage the other. This is what Jesus did in our story. In verse twelve we read, “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity'”. He saw her come in. He chose to engage her. She was absolutely worthy of his time and attention. The barriers that others saw and the Sabbath day barrier did not stop Jesus. He ministered to her that day. Her life was forever changed. On mission trips or whenever we engage those like the woman, we do not heal them. But we do introduce them to the idea that Jesus can.

Today, who will you truly see and engage that others avoid or do not notice?

Prayer: Lord, continue to give me eyes to see the other and a heart to engage them. Lead and guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Perceive

Reading: Isaiah 43: 19b-21

Verse 19: “Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”.

Thirst comes in many forms. It can be physical at times. After a long hike on a hot day that cool drink of water can taste so good. It can be emotional at times. When I have been away at school or on a mission trip or at an event over a long weekend, it feels so good to see and hug my family once again. When a good friend returns to your life, it is refreshing and renewing too.

The thirst can also be spiritual. This is the thirst that Isaiah writes about. Israel’s unfaithfulness has drawn them away from God. Our sin does the same to us. Because of their behaviors and choices, they cannot drink deeply of their faith. Exile has deepened the thirst and made it feel more profound. Through Isaiah, God says, “Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”. God is starting the renewal process. God asks, can’t you see it? God is beginning to pour back into a people starting to seek God again. The exiles feel like they are in a dry and weary place, especially spiritually. Even though they may not see it yet, God is preparing to bring them back to the Promised Land. God is at work in the happenings of the world to orchestrate their return to their homeland. God is bringing streams of hope and restoration to “the people I formed for myself”.

God seeks to do the same in our lives. God is always at work seeking to draw us closer, to deepen our faith. When we wander, the Holy Spirit convicts us and leads us back into right relationship. When we feel a bit disconnected, God brings us a spark through the Word or sends a brother or sister in Christ to us with the presence or words of encouragement or accountability that we need at that moment. God is ever at work in our lives. Sometimes the question is the same for us: do you not perceive it?

We perceive it best when we engage with God and our faith. God wants to fill us up, to be our all in all. God wants us to drink deeply of our relationship with and connection to Himself. We too are His chosen people. The promise is that if we draw near to God, God will draw near to us. Each day may we engage in our faith, seeking the Lord. In doing so we will find God is very present and we can then proclaim our praises. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, this day may I sense you all around me and in me. As I seek you, help me to grow closer and deeper in my faith. In all I say and do and think, may I proclaim your praises. Amen.


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Jesus’ Healing Touch

Reading: Luke 6: 17-19

Verse 19: “All tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all”.

When I read the verse above, I first think that maybe Jesus was in a level space right next to the biggest hospital in the region. “All” came to touch Jesus. It is not four friends bringing a lame man on a his mat so that Jesus can heal the man. It is “all” people who seek Jesus’ touch so that they can be healed. But what if people are not just seeking physical healing?

What if the majority of the “all” are seeking Jesus for spiritual and/or emotional healing? Why then, they are just like us today. When I consider all the people I know today, most of them are healthy physically. Maybe a little high cholesterol here or a cold there, but otherwise pretty healthy. When I turn my thoughts to our emotional and spiritual health, there is a whole different picture that comes to my mind. Then “all” is the correct word for who needs Jesus’ healing touch.

I, you, everyone we know is in need of healing from the sin in our lives. Sometimes they are sins that occur spontaneously – jealousy over another’s success or anger at an unintentional slight. Sometimes sins are more regular – battles with pride, ego, judging, lust – just to name a few. This alone includes at least 99.999% of us. All of us need the healing touch of Jesus to be cleansed of our sin. Many are also dealing with emotional issues from experiences in their past and/or situations in their current realities.

I would wager that most reading this are in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. If not, it is as simple as asking Jesus into your heart, finding a local church to worship and learn in, and committing to reading the Bible and following its ways. But for most of us, we have wandered our path to Jesus and have come to know and follow Him. We’ve humbled ourselves and admitted our need for Jesus’ healing touch.

One last “all” – all of us know someone (or many someones) who need Jesus’ healing touch today. May we be intentional about connecting them to the touch of the great Healer, Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, may I connect others to you. As I engage others and share Valentine’s cards, may I help folks to feel your love and healing power. Amen.


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His Love and Care

Reading: Isaiah 40: 3-11

Verse Three: “Make straight in the wilderness a highway for the Lord”.

Have you ever been lost, either physically or spiritually?  Have you ever lost your way because of a storm?  Maybe it was an actual storm – a good blizzard perhaps – that you can remember being lost in.  Before long you lose your sense of direction and the safest thing to do is to hunker down and wait it out.  At some point the snow and wind subside and, more often than not, the white-covered world that is revealed is beautiful to behold.

Sometimes our storm is not a physical one, but what we feel is very similar.  The storm could be the loss of a loved one or of a job; it could be the loss of a special relationship or the loss of a home.  It can be depression or anxiety or stress that rises up to an all-new level.  Many things can rise up and swirl around us to the point of feeling lost and not able to see where to go or how to proceed forward.  Often we want to hunker down at these times as well.

In these stormy times in our lives, Isaiah calls out to us as well: “In the desert, prepare the way for the Lord”.  He invites us to open our hearts and minds for God’s presence and activity in our lives.  In the midst of the storm, Isaiah encourages us to “Make straight in the wilderness a highway for the Lord”.  He is encouraging us to allow what God desires to do: to lead us out of whatever we are in, out of our proverbial wilderness.

Our passage closes with these words: “He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart”.  It is both a beautiful image and a promise from God.  God loves us dearly and so desires to let us know and feel that love.  This day may we open ourselves up to His love and care, resting in our good shepherd, trusting Him to guide us through all that life brings our way this day and every day.


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Compassion

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 14: When Jesus landed and saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Jesus always seemed to be in demand.  Once He began to teach and heal, there always seemed to be a group or a crowd gathered around Him.  He had interesting and sometimes challenging parables and His interpretation of the Scriptures and what it meant to have faith all seemed to center around love and hope and forgiveness.  There was a hunger for these things and Jesus offered them.  For each, there was draw to Jesus.  This day, many are seeking healing.  The people are seeking Jesus’ touch to heal them physically or spiritually or mentally.  So this day is no different than all the others.  Jesus is tired and seeks to withdraw to a solitary place, but the people follow along on shore.

“When Jesus landed and saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick”.  Instead of being mad or getting back in the boat and heading off someplace else, a tired Jesus has compassion.  He gets out of the boat and starts healing them.  We do not know how or what He healed them of, but we do know that He healed many because as evening approaches, the disciples come to Jesus with a practical concern.  Feeding the people – one more way to care for them.  But Jesus’ response challenges the disciples: “You feed them”.  Their answer: but, but, but.   Our answer would have been the same.  What can we do, Lord?

Instead of being angry with the disciples or seeking to walk away from them, Jesus has compassion.  He solves their problem too.  With five loaves and two fish, Jesus feeds the multitude.  His compassion never ends.  Even though tired and seeking solitude, Jesus heals many and as the day draws long, He feeds them too, tending to a physical need of the people.

Jesus continues to do all of this today.  In those times of hurt and pain, Jesus heals our brokenness.  He heals our physical or spiritual or emotional hurts.  He also provides for our needs – our daily bread and so much more.  Jesus offers us Hope and love and forgiveness today as He has compassion on us.  Whatever our need or our hurt, Jesus says to us, “Bring them to me”.


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Faith of a Centurion

Reading: Luke 7: 1-10

The centurion is a man of authority.  He has absolute command of the soldiers under him.  He tells one to go and they go; he tells one to come and they come.  He understands power.  The centurion has heard of Jesus and he recognizes that Jesus too has power.  The stories he has heard have been enough for the centurion to recognize the power Jesus wields.  The centurion also understands though that Jesus’ power is different than his own earthly power.  He sees that not only is it a different kind of power but it is a superior power.  The centurion who knows he has a lot of earthly power acknowledges that he is not worthy of being in Jesus’ presence.  The centurion is a powerful man with a lot of humility.

Jesus in turn credits the centurion with having great faith.  He goes so far as to comment that He has not yet seen such faith in Israel.  That is a pretty strong statement for Jesus’ followers and for the religious authorities to hear.  This Roman soldier has a faith superior to ours?  It would be a difficult question for them to wrestle with.

It is a difficult question for us to wrestle with too.  We say that God is all-powerful and can do anything, but do we really trust Him to do so?  We’ve heard the stories just like the centurion did, but do we have absolute confidence that Jesus can still act?  He brought healing to a sick servant who was miles and miles away without uttering a word.  Surely this kind of power can still heal and transform lives.  But do we have the faith of the centurion?  This day may we call upon the mighty and powerful name of Jesus to enter into our lives to bring us spiritual, physical, and/or emotional transformation.  In Jesus’ name there are no limits.  May we live faithfully today, trusting in this truth.