pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Ruling Over All

Reading: Isaiah 40: 21-24

Verse 21: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning”?

Is turning to God your first instinct in all situations? Do you naturally seek out God in times of need or trial? Before anyone else, do you first thank God for the blessings and successes you experience daily? If not, you are like many of us. We are much like the exiles to whom Isaiah writes.

The idea of bringing all things to God is well-supported in scripture. It is found throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is what Paul is thinking when he calls us to pray without ceasing in 1st Thessalonians. For some of us, the reality is we earnestly come to God in prayer when we are getting desperate or when something really amazing happens. We know in our hearts and souls that God can do anything, but we tend not to seek Him first in all things.

Isaiah is writing to a people in exile who are getting back around to God. God is responding with words of comfort as chapter forty opens. In our verses today, Isaiah reminds them of God’s ever present nature. He writes, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning”? It is a way of saying that since God is always here, we should go to God always. The current Babylonian rulers are the exiles’ concern at present, so Isaiah reminds the people that rulers are soon swept away by God too. They come and go as God sees fit. They are temporal. Their power lasts but for a moment in God’s grand scheme.

Rulers are like all other things on this earth: they are temporary and limited. Despite this fact, we often turn first to ourselves and then to other people and things to find help or guidance or relief or a way out. We turn to people with titles and positions, we turn to institutions, we turn to our family and friends. None are inherently evil or are bad choices. They just should not be our first choice. The One who created all is still ruling over all. Our God can still do all things and anything. All else will fade. Only God will remain. May we ever turn to God, He who ever sits “enthroned above the circle of the earth”, ruling over all.

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Present and in Control

Reading: Isaiah 40: 21-31

Verse 26: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these?”

The prophet Isaiah writes and speaks to a people who are living in exile. When the people were disobedient to God the Babylonians conquered them. The Israelites were then taken off into captivity. They understood the consequences of their disobedience to be the exile. But as time wears on and exile continues, they begin to feel as if punishment has turned to abandonment. Through Isaiah, God wants to remind the people that He is still present and is still in control.

In verse 26 Isaiah tells the people, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these”? He is saying to not remain downcast but to look up to God instead. Focus not on these feelings of abandonment but look up and marvel at the power and might of God revealed in the heavens. Remember that God is the creator and sustainer and that God is fully in control. At times we too can get bogged down or run over by life. Every now and then we too need to take a moment to recognize and connect to the God of all creation.

Isaiah then draws the people back to the essentials of their faith as he asks them, “Do you not know? Have you not heard”? Isaiah asks them to remember how God has always been their God both personally and corporately. He is saying, ‘don’t you remember?’ all the ways we have known and experienced God throughout our history. Isaiah then reminds the people that “the Lord is the everlasting God”. God has been, is, and always will be. As a word of encouragement, Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak”. The people long in exile feel weary and weak. Yes, they need strength and power from God.

Isaiah will go on to inform the people that because God is in control, that the exile is almost over. Although they cannot see the end, Isaiah tells them that the ends nears. As they wait, Isaiah reminds them to keep their hope and trust rooted in God. This promise of God’s faithfulness remains true for us as well. In those times or seasons that feel a bit like exile, we too must hold firmly to our faith, knowing that God was, is, and always will be present and in control. He holds us in His hands.


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Connection

Reading: Isaiah 61:10 to 62:3

Verse Three: “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”.

Today’s passage from Isaiah has both personal and corporate aspects of righteousness.  It begins on the personal level with Isaiah praising God for his “garments of salvation” and his “robe of righteousness”.  God has blessed Isaiah with these things because Isaiah has been faithful to God’s word and because he has been true in his calling to be the voice of God for the nation of Israel.  Isaiah also sees signs that God is at work in the lives of the people.  In verse eleven Isaiah speaks of God preparing the people Israel, like a farmer prepares the soil for a new crop, so that “righteousness and praise will spring up” leading Israel to be restored or to be born anew.

In our passage, the transition from chapter 61 to 62 is where the melding of personal and corporate righteousness begins to take place.  Isaiah writes of Zion – the people of God.  He also writes of Jerusalem – the city of God.  The people are in exile.  As a people of God they seem to have lost some of their connection to God, to being God’s chosen people.  Being in exile can make one question who you are.  After these many years in exile, they long to return to their home land and to Jerusalem, the center of their nation.  Isaiah is speaking of a restoration of both Zion and Jerusalem as he writes, “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”.  What words of hope!

In our lives and in our churches today we can experience times like Zion and the nation of Israel are feeling.  There can be times or even seasons when we seem to have lost our way or feel like we are in exile.  God desires to speak into these times or seasons as well.  God still desires to see His people clothed in salvation and righteousness.  If we delve into the scriptures, we will find a connection between living a holy life and being invested in the disciplines of our faith – reading and meditating on the Word, spending regular time in prayer and worship, serving those in need.  It is when we participate in these habits of the faith that we are preparing our soil for righteousness and praise to sprout up.  It is through these disciplines that we come to lead a holy life.  Then God will indeed clothe us in a robe of righteousness that will lead to salvation.

When we get away from being who and what God calls us to be – whether personally or as a community of faith – we lose our connection to God.  Just as He did with Zion and Jerusalem, God remains faithful and continues to call us back to faith and back into relationship with Him.  God promises to be near to us when we draw near to Him.  May we always seek to be faithful to our call to live as God desires, investing our time and hearts in the things of God.  Through the faithful practice of our faith habits, our connection to God will remain strong.  May it be so for you and for me!


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Salvation Call

Reading: Isaiah 52: 7-10

Verse Ten: “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God”.

Isaiah writes to a people who are broken, bringing them words of hope and good news.  Our passage opens with, “How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news”.  In our brokenness, we too need to hear good news from God.  It is in those moments that perhaps we hear best what God has to reveal to us.  We are receptive and we are searching for something to bring us hope and joy.  So, in a way, at times we would rewrite this verse to say, “How beautiful in the valleys…”

Isaiah speaks to his people of hope through God and salvation through the Lord.  Isaiah speaks of a time when they are no longer in exile, of a time when Zion will once again be home.  When we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with one living in ‘exile’ we also invite them to live into the hope that Jesus gives and to see a time when God redeems and restores them.  In sharing the gospel and our love, we too will help others begin to sing “songs of joy” as God begins to work in their lives, bringing hope, redemption, and liberation from their brokenness.

As faithful followers of Jesus Christ we have many experiences where God has become present to us in our lives.  We have these tangible moments that we treasure; we cling to these experiences in times of trial and testing.  These are the nuggets we must mine and share with others who are where we have been.  It is those stories of when God rescued us from the pit or when God healed our brokenness or when God redeemed us from our sinful ways that help others to see that God could make a difference in their lives too.  It is one way that God calls us to be actively engaged in our broken and hurting world.  It is our call.  Our passage today concludes with, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God”.  May we each be a part of helping those we engage to see this too.


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Arise, Shine

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

At times, things can seem dark.  For individuals, sudden and unexpected loss can make the world heavy and can make it hard to get through the day to day.  And at times, even the normal day to day life can be a bit hard at times.  One only has to spend a little time watching or listening to the news to develop a sense that the world is bleak and gloomy.  Story after story brings more bad news.  This was the feel of the times into which Isaiah writes.  The exiles have been gone so long it seems like they will never return.  Things in Jerusalem have continued to erode – the walls, the food, the hope, …

Isaiah opens this writing with hope – glorious hope – “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you”.  These words contain much hope.  God is returning!  Into all of this darkness comes the Lord Almighty.  It is such good news that Isaiah repeats it again in the next verse.  He goes on to write of the return of sons and daughters from exile.  Then he writes of how other nations will see the glory of God in Israel and will come with camels, gold, and incense.  Lots of good news is on the way!  Praise the Lord!

Within this chapter of joy for Israel, we too can find hope in our day to day.  If we are in the midst of a difficult time, like Israel was, it can feel like God is not there or is distant at best.  The good news is for us too – we too can find strength and hope in God.  If we seek Him, we will know God’s presence, for God is always near.  For those not dealing with a personal trial, may we arise and shine forth the glory of the Lord, for all the world to see.  May the light shine so that all may be drawn to the Lord.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Isaiah 11: 1-5

In many places winter is settling in.  On the coldest of windy days, one just wants to hunker down inside with a good book and a cozy blanket.  In this way, one finds a little comfort and solace in a harsh world outside.  In today’s passage, Isaiah is offering a vision filled with words of hope and promise.  The people are in exile.  Their surroundings are secular, polytheistic, and oppressive.  To a degree, they have begun to ask God how long this season of exile will last.

Into this despair and a growing sense of abandonment, God uses Isaiah to speak a word of hope.  Isaiah speaks of a shoot that will come up.  Just like us looking for that first burst of green after a long winter, Isaiah tells of a time coming soon when hope and promise will rise up from the house of Jesse.  Isaiah goes on to describe this new King – He will reign with wisdom and understanding and power and knowledge.  To these Isaiah adds that the King will give wise counsel and will live with a fear of God.  And not only all of this, but the king will also stand for the needy and those dealing with injustice.  To a people living in oppressive exile, someone who reigns by righteousness and faithfulness would provide great hope and promise.

Many living today need to hear these words of hope and promise.  Many in our country and probably some in all of our communities need to find a little hope and promise.  Some in our congregations need to know hope and promise.  Hope and promise abound in this passage from Isaiah.  A king who loves and cares for the needy and oppressed, one who rules with justice and righteousness – this is a king many need.  This King comes to us again this year in a manger, soon to be celebrated in all of our churches.  In this season where we prepare to welcome again the baby Jesus, may we also share the King of Kings, the King of justice and righteousness with a world so in need.  May we each share the King’s hope and promise this day.


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Light

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

There is a certain peace and solitude that comes with winter camping.  The air is crisp and clear.  Usually you are the only one in the campground.  At night the only sound is the crackle of the fire.  Once you settle into your tent, just a thin layer separated you from the world outside.  Sounds of nature fill the air as a chill settles over all.  I usually wake up early and it is dark and quiet and very cold.  It is a time of solitude and peace.  But it also is a time of waiting.  For the next bit of time I cannot hardly wait for the sun to poke out and to begin to cast its light and warmth on this quiet and cold place.

The Jews had a similar experience awaiting the Messiah.  Except it has been hundreds and hundreds of years.  Prophets of old spoke of the coming of the Messiah.  After long periods of exile, of times of war and defeat, and of occupation by the oppressive Romans, the people long for a Messiah.  The Jew’s hope for a Messiah hangs on the thinnest of threads.  Some even wonder if God has forgotten the promise.

This is the context into which Zechariah breaks forth with his prophecy.  The time has come!  Zechariah prophesies that his son, John the Baptist, is here the “go on before the Lord” to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah.  The time is very near for the “horn of salvation” to come into the world.

There is hope now.  Just as the sun’s first rays burst forth ending the cold night, bringing light and warmth, so too does the coming of Jesus as He enters the world.  Jesus is that light that shines into the darkness, chasing away oppression and loneliness and fear and doubt.  Because of the tender mercy of God, Jesus came into the world.  His light continues to shine.  May we, as Jesus’ followers, continue to bring forth Jesus’ light this day.