pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Light in the Darkness

Reading: Isaiah 9: 1-2

Verse 1: “In the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles”.

We have all experienced times of isolation and darkness. These can be caused by an illness. For example, when the flu or other sickness drags on and on, we reach a point that feels like we’ve been sick forever. Isolation or darkness can also be caused by mother nature. A fierce winter snowstorm can leave us stuck in the house for a number of days. Soon enough we begin to feel closed in upon and cut off from the rest of the world. In these and other similar experiences, we long to be reconnected with others, to be freed from that which binds us. In this sense we can relate to Zebulun and Naphtali, the two lands that Isaiah writes to in our passage today.

These two tribes were conquered and have been living under a foreign power’s oppression for many years. It has been so long that they feel like this is just life. Their time of isolation and darkness has gone on for generations. Many of the people have given up hope for a different tomorrow, slowly coming to accept this situation as the new normal. Isaiah indicates that this situation was God’s way of humbling these two tribes. It is into this situation that Isaiah brings today’s words of hope.

The passage opens with this declaration: “there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress”. The oppression will not be forever. Isaiah continues with words of hope, adding, “in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles”. The time is not right now but it is coming. God has a plan to rescue and restore Zebulun and Naphtali. And not only these two tribes but the Gentiles as well. In verse two Isaiah goes on to write, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. In the future the light will dawn. They are, in fact, a long way from the end of the tunnel – 700 years. But there is hope now because there is light at the end of the tunnel.

We too can claim this hope and promise as well as helping others claim it as well. Isaiah speaks of a God who will not allow suffering to be endless. According to God’s plan, all things will be made new. In the interim, we are promised life abundant. We will suffer and feel isolation and darkness at times. This is unavoidable in our earthly life. But the light is close. God’s love never fails. The Spirit’s presence is always with us – we are never alone. We can lean into God, trusting in his plans, holding to the light and love of Jesus. We know the great light. May we cling to Jesus every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my strength and my shield, my light and my hope. In all times, but especially in the hard times, remind me over and over of your love and care. Help me to be these things to people walking in isolation and darkness, that they might get a glimpse of you. Amen.


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The Long Run

Reading: Matthew 11: 2-11

Verse 2: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else”?

John the Baptist is in prison. His earthly ministry has come to an end. During his time in the wilderness he called many to a baptism of repentance. They heard John’s powerful message and emerged from the waters committed to living a devout faith in order to be prepared for the coming Messiah. During this time, Jesus himself came and was baptized by John. God spoke words of blessing over the one John himself called the “lamb of God”. Yet, in today’s passage, John sends some followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else”? What could lead John to question who Jesus was?

Because he was a prophet and because he was so closely connected to God, in those moments in the wilderness, John sensed who Jesus was and identified him as the Messiah. Now John sits in prison. He is being punished because one in power did not like hearing the truth. The Romans remain in control. When is the Messiah going to do something about all this? When is the Messiah going to rise up and lead Israel back to greatness? John is allowing his present circumstances and his worldly longings to affect how he sees and understands Jesus. We can do this as well. We can allow our hard circumstances and the pressures of the world to affect our relationship with and our faith in Christ. We too can become disoriented and can question or doubt our faith.

Jesus’ response is two-fold. The first part reminds John (and us) of what Jesus’ real purpose and mission was and is. Jesus came to bring healing and hope to a broken world. John himself had challenged the religious leaders to “produce fruit”. In Luke’s gospel John defines this as giving to those in need, as caring for others… Jesus is reminding John that his kingdom is not about being powerful in the worldly sense. The second reminder is to John the person. Jesus declares that John fulfilled his divine role in calling or pointing people towards Jesus. Jesus declares John the greatest prophet. Jesus is assuring John that his life does not amount to his current situation. He is reminding John that what truly matters, in the long run, is the faithful service that John gave to his Lord and Savior. Even the last line of our passage today points to this reality: all in heaven will be greater than their earthly self. Hold onto hope John, the best is yet to come. This too is our truth. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am having my John the Baptist moments, feeling sorry for myself or questioning why I am where I am, remind me as you did John. Help me to be light and love in the dark places and ever remind me of the end of the real story. Thank you. Amen.


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That Big a Love

Reading: Luke 23: 32-43

Verse 34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.

In today’s passage we turn to Jesus on the cross. It is a place none of us would want to be. But it exactly where Jesus needed to be and wanted to be. Over the course of the last two days we have looked at how God’s plan unfolded in the births of John the Baptist and Jesus and of how God calls us to repent of our sins so that he can guide our steps. Today those plans and steps meet at Golgatha, the Skull.

The cross was a necessary step for Jesus and for us. It was how he became the sacrifice or atonement for our sins. Jesus hung there between two others – criminals being justly executed for their crimes. These two represent us. None of us are without sin. All of us deserve punishment. Some of the time we are like the one who hurls insults at Jesus Christ. In pride we say we can do this on our own. In arrogance we say we are the one in control. If we remain this criminal, we receive the punishment due. We can also be the other criminal. We recognize that an innocent and blameless man took upon himself our sins and died for us. We realize our own guilt and we come and kneel at the cross, begging for mercy and grace and forgiveness. In love, Jesus offers all of these gifts to us.

The cross was once for all. Once because it was the final atonement for our sins. The price then and now and until he returns has been paid in full. For all because Jesus died for every one of us. I believe Jesus would have died for just one of us. That’s how great his love is for each of us. But Jesus did not just take upon himself the sins of one man or woman. On Jesus hung all the sins past, present, and future. His was a sacrificial love great enough to bear all of that. It is still that big a love.

Whether we are near or far, whether we have allowed sin to separate us for a long time or just a few minutes, all we need to do is confess and repent. In love our sins are no more. Made holy and right again, we live one more day closer to hearing, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of grace, today I think of what Jesus did for me, a sinner undeserving of grace. That I was undeserving did not matter to Jesus. Thank you for this love so great. Help me to cling to it again today. Amen.


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One More Link

Reading: Psalm 145: 1-5

Verse 3: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom”.

Psalm 145 is about praising God. This is something we can do in many ways. The psalmist begins with worship, with exalting God. Perhaps this happens on Sunday morning, but it can also happen in other ways. It can occur in quiet moments of prayer. It can be singing praise in the car or in the shower. Praise can happen as one walks or runs and recognizes God in the beauty of the stars or forest groves. Worship can happen as we read our Bibles and meditate on God’s work in the world and in our lives.

The praise section transitions with these words: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom”. These words draw to mind why we praise God. While the greatness of God might be hard to fathom, it is certainly recognizable and it draws us to praise the creator. We can see God in the magnificence of creation itself, in the faces of one another, in the healing miraculous touch that occurs in our Bible, in our world, and maybe even in our lives. These and many more bring us to an awareness of how worthy God is of our praise.

In verse four the psalmist shifts to evangelism. This too is a form of praise. He writes, “One generation will commend your works to another”. Part of our connection to God and to one another comes in our common story. The arc of the Bible connects people of faith through stories that span thousands of years. Beginning in Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21 we hear the story of God’s love and redemption. Each story builds the case for God’s love for his children and for all of creation. The stories of God’s mighty acts and wonderful works reveal both God’s glory and the ways in which God has, can, and will work in the world and in the lives of the faithful. We are a part of telling the stories too. We are each one more link in the great story of faith and we are each a storyteller too.

Whether by word, action, or deed, may we praise God and may we tell the story of our faith, planting seeds and encouraging our fellow disciples along the way.

Prayer: Magnificent creator, the work of your hands is amazing! The intricacies of our world shout your greatness. Yet I know you and you know me. This mystery too reveals your greatness. It humbles me. May my life be poured out as thanks to you, my God and King. Amen.


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A Great Love

Reading: Hosea 1:10

Verse 10: “There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God'”.

The people of Israel and Judah have separated and Israel has departed from God. God has decided to mercilessly send them into exile. The sins of idolatry are so great that a consequence is required. The people are no longer God’s people and God is not their God. At times we too get to a place that feels like this. Because of our sin we have created separation from God.

In today’s passage we find hope. God reveals through Hosea that Israel will be restored. The separation will not be forever. God begins by telling them that they will be as vast as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted. This image and these words echo the covenant that God made with Abraham. It speaks of a day when Israel will be a vast nation.

God also connects back to the reference to Jezreel. What had once been a place and event that was displeasing to God will now be where the restoration begins: “There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God'”. Once again Israel will live in covenant relationship with God. The relationship will come full circle. Israel will once again be God’s children and God will be their God.

At the start of the book of Hosea Israel was so far from God’s ways that a harsh consequence was necessary. Even though the sin was this great, God did not give up on them or forever abandon them. God did not stop loving his children. The message for us is the same.

Although our sin might be great, God will never stop loving us. It is that great love that gives us hope. It is a love that never fails. Therefore, whatever we might do, whatever we might become, there is still a God who loves us. There is still a God who wants to bring us back into right relationship. For us, for you and for me, God even went so far as to amend the sacrificial system. It cost God his son on the cross. Now, through Jesus’ blood, we can personally be restored and redeemed. It is a great love that never fails. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your love for me is amazing. No matter what I do, no matter how far I run, no matter what, your love always calls out to me, ever seeks to restore me, ever yearns to make me righteous again. Thank you for your love. Amen.


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Simply Be Conduit

Reading: Luke 10: 17-20

Verse 20: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”.

The 72 return to Jesus overjoyed with all they were able to accomplish. They could not wait to share with him the wonderful things they did – “even the demons submit to us”. Jesus was ready for this. He acknowledges that, yes, he “saw Satan falling like lightning”. He then quickly reminds them that he gave them the power and that he kept them safe and protected.

We can be like the disciples. When we have been faithful to the task that God has given us and when we experience “success”, we can quickly claim recognition or glory for ourselves. We can quickly fall into the “look what I did” trap. Like the disciples, we can get excited when our service leads people to responses of faith or to a commitment to Christ. We can forget that it was the Spirit that led us and that it was God within that gave us the words to speak or led us in the action we took. We too need reminded that only with Jesus and only when the Spirit is working in and through us do we accomplish great things for the kingdom.

Jesus said to the disciples, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”. The rejoicing comes in knowing that our prayers or words or actions had eternal kingdom consequences. Maybe the impact was someone moving closer to beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Maybe the consequence was God moving us deeper in our faith. Maybe it was both. When we are faithful and when we remain closely connected to God there is little doubt who has the power and the ability to do great things. It is all God. May we simply be the conduit through which God works today.

Prayer: Lord, may I be open to your Holy Spirit as it leads and guides me today. Draw me close to you, O Lord, so that all I do and say and think brings you glory. Amen.


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A Great Multitude

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-12

Verse 9: “A great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people, language, standing before the throne”.

Today’s passage is a wonderful one for today in our world and for many of our churches. John writes of this assembly that is a “great multitude”. This diverse body of believers gathers around the throne, in front of the Lamb, and worships. All are dressed in white robes and are waving palm branches. There is unity that comes from faith in Jesus Christ alone. This image casts a wide circle that seems to exclude no one. The gathering includes “every nation, tribe, people, language, standing before the throne”.

As Christians, how do we reflect this attitude in our lives and in our world? As a nation, we are struggling with who to allow into the land. As churches, we are struggling with who to allow into membership and leadership. As individuals, we are struggling with who is worthy of our love and care and friendship. When I look at Jesus’ life in the gospels, I see one who loved and ministered to and welcomed one and all. Jesus’ circle did not have any exceptions or any loopholes. How can ours?

In Revelation we see that people “from every nation, tribe, people, language” are standing in the presence of God, worshipping together as one. All the angels and elders and four living creatures join all of humanity to fall to their faces before God, worshipping and declaring “praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength to God for ever and ever”. May we too join their worship today, becoming the great multitude of God’s people, one and all. Amen.

Prayer: Help me to love all of my brothers and sisters just as your Son did. May I worship this day with all I meet. Amen.