pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Our Only Hope

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-7

Verse 1: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you”.

Isaiah writes to a people who have been defeated and the best have been led off into exile. They have seen their holy city destroyed and now they live in a foreign land. The people of Israel must feel like the darkness has closed in around them and they can see no light. Even God must feel distant – how else would they be where they are?

This is their frame of mind as Isaiah speaks these words: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you”. In one way, this would be like telling a 94 year old man who just lost his wife of seventy years, “Look up, you’ll find love again”. From their perspective, it does not sound possible. In the midst of such loss and the grief that accompanies it, finding hope in the darkness can be very difficult. So why would Isaiah try and bring hope?

Isaiah brings hope for the same reason you and I bring hope. For people ravaged and displaced by war, for folks unexpectedly visited by death, for families suddenly uprooted because of an unforeseen event, for the person who experiences loss of a job or something similar – for all of these and more – speaking a word of hope is where our faith response must begin. Immediate needs must often be met first, but in terms of faith, in those darkest of places, all else hinges upon hope.

Isaiah’s words remind the people that God is still with them. The promise is that light will again rise over the people. He encourages them to lift up their eyes and to look about. There are signs of God even in the dark. Isaiah calls them to envision the day when all return to Israel, to imagine the day when all peoples of the earth will come from afar. This is not some “what if” story. God will one day call all people to kneel before the throne. For the faithful, all things will be made new. We too cling to this promise. Whether we enter our rest individually or as part of the final renewal of all things, we hold fast to the promise of eternal life. This is our hope. It is the hope we have to share with those living in darkness. May our light shine!

Prayer: God of light, there is plenty of darkness all around. Many walk in this life without you and without hope. Help me to speak words of hope, bringing a glimpse of light into the darkness. Guide this light to lead others to the only hope in this life: you. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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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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Even Then

Reading: Luke 17: 11-19

Verse 15: “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice”.

Ten are healed of their disease and are able to return to their families and to society. Ten are cured of the physical separation that they have endured. Only one finds a wholeness that extends beyond the physical. Only one connects back to the Lord Jesus, the One who healed his physical disease. He is the only one who really knows that his healing can lead to being made truly whole. Only one stops to acknowledge and worship the one who restored him to full life.

When we experience God’s hand at work in similar big ways, we likely take the time to pause and praise the Lord for what he has done. But what about the smaller things? Are we grateful and praising each day for the small blessings of yesterday? Do we truly thank God for all of the ways that our lives are blessed?

And how is our faith when the answer that we want does not come? Some of us live with an illness or infirmity for all of our lives or for the last portion of our life. Some of us live with a relationship that is broken. Some of us struggle with a grief that never goes away. Some of the time our loved ones do not get better. Each of these trials persist in spite of our prayers. What do we do when the leprosy remains?

Can we still live in our illness or brokenness within God’s love and care? Yes! We are promised the loving and caring presence of the Lord in the midst of our exile. He walks with us through the valley of the shadows. Like with Paul, that thorn in our side reminds us of our need for a strength that we do not have on our own. Even then – even in our illness and brokenness, we still find hope and life in the Lord Jesus Christ. May we fully trust in the Lord, finding new life and wholeness in him even on the toughest of days.

Prayer: Lord, you have walked with me through the valleys. You have even carried me at times. Help me to trust in your purposes and plans each time I experience a trial or am suffering. I know you are a good, good God. Thank you for always loving even me. Amen.


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Love Well

Reading: Psalm 66: 1-12

Verses 8 and 9: “Praise our God, O peoples… for he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”.

Psalm 66 is a song of praise to the Lord. It recognizes some of God’s mighty acts on behalf of the people of Israel. It speaks of how God has refined the people too. There is a corporate feel to the Psalm. But there is also a personal feel. Often when visiting the older members of our congregation, they express gratitude that God has granted them one more day. That spirit also exists in the Psalm.

Many will come to worship in an attitude of gratitude. They enter the sacred space ready to rejoice and to praise the Lord. But each time we gather for worship some come with burdens or grief to bear. The recent loss of a loved one still stings. The news of cancer or some other illness is still rocking their world. The pressures of school and/or sports feels like a heavy weight upon their shoulders. These folks feel like they are in the refining fire or that the water has risen pretty high in their lives. Some will share their burden or grief yet will still leave with it. They are the ones that really need to hear the story of what God has done and can do. They come to worship seeking a little hope.

In verses eight and nine we read, “Praise our God, O peoples… for he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”. For most of us, this is where we are. We’ve not always been here though. Because life is life we all can relate to those who question their situation, who question God, who do not feel that they are standing on a solid foundation. Because we have been there, we can provide encouragement and we can offer the hope of Jesus Christ to those with burdens or grief. To know that God is good and to be reminded of God’s love helps them to take one step forward. As people of God, may we love well those that are most in need.

Prayer: God, you are abundant in your love. Your mercies keep coming, new every morning. My life is the story of “come and see what God has done”. Help me to share that story well, introducing others to what you can and want to do in their lives. Amen.


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God Invites Us Deeper

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

Verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”.

One cannot hardly help reading these verses and being drawn into the sadness of the situation. God has been just in exiling the people because of their sins. Yet the barrenness and emptiness of Jerusalem evoke feelings of sadness and mourning in us thousands of years later. In our hearts we can easily empathize when we read, “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”. Perhaps tears roll down our cheeks.

In our own lives we too will experience hardship, loss, death, change, separation, and maybe even exile. Sometimes these experiences come upon us not because of anything we have done or not done. We simply find ourselves present in the valley. These experiences can be hard and painful. They vary too. There is grief and sadness, for example, when a 92-year-old faithful saint passes on. Yet our reading from Lamentations feels more like the unexpected loss of a young child. In such instances we weep like the woman who cries bitter tears, not quite understanding the reality that she finds herself in.

At other times we have a hand in the calamity that brings us to the valley. There were many who went into exile and some left behind that were guilty of the sins that precipitated God’s action. When we have been guilty and experience hardship or worse because of our choices or actions, we must acknowledge the role we played before offering repentance and seeking reconciliation. This can be a process. Denial and blame shifting can prolong the exile. For Israel, the exile lasted a long time. There was much work to do. We too can remain there for a period of time if we refuse to admit our role or to acknowledge our imperfections.

Whether we are “innocent victims” or if we had a role in the hardship or failure or “exile”, these experiences offer us the opportunity for transformation and growth. In the valleys we are reminded both of our inability to solve all things and of God’s omnipotent ability to do anything. From the valley, God invites us into deeper relationship as we walk the shadows. God’s hand reaches out in love, seeking to heal and transform us into something new. In faith may we reach out to God, our rock and redeemer, our rescuer and restorer, our healer and our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, the valley is an uncomfortable place to be. The feeling of isolation and grief are hard to bear. Help me to walk with you, to lean upon you. I know you do not want me to bear them alone. Bend my face to yours, hold my hand tightly. Guide me through to once again walk fully in your light and love. Amen.


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Tell of His Love

Reading: Luke 15: 1-10

Verse 4: “Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it”?

As we read these two stories, we begin to understand how important it is for God to find the lost. It has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus told these stories. The first disciples thought Jesus’ return was going to be soon – certainly during their lifetime. I believe this expanse of time shows both God’s love for humanity and God’s love for the lost. There are still souls to be saved.

We were once one of these lost souls. We were the sheep or the coin (or the prodigal son in the next story). During the first part of my college experience I was the lost sheep. I was raised in the church and was active in youth group through high school. In college, my faith took a back seat for a few years until God found me again in a pile of grief. A few years later I was like the lost coin – still somewhere in the house but not really connected or engaged. We went to a church most Sundays but it wasn’t ever our church. It was more like checking the box than being a part of a faith family. God was present in my life, but was mostly hidden. We all have experiences or seasons where we wander a little bit from the faith we once knew and lived. Like the shepherd and like the woman, God searches for us. “Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it”?

I am so very grateful that God sought me out when I was lost. Once it was a trial, a suffering, that drew me back. Other times it was a gentle whisper, a soft nudge. All of these are a part of my faith story, a part of who I am today as a child of God. I rejoice that God loves me so much that he never gives up on me. Is that your response too? If so, may we tell others of Jesus’ love for them.

Prayer: Loving Father God, when I think about your love, I both marvel at it and am humbled by it. My response: thank you for your love. May my witness today help others to know that love too. Amen.


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Peace Be with You

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 19: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you'”!

The disciples are gathered together, behind locked doors, mourning the loss of Jesus. When one of a close group dies, this is common behavior. There is comfort in grieving together, in knowing you are not alone. Others just outside the circle also come and visit, offering support and presence and love to the group. But the group of disciples are also afraid. They are hiding behind closed doors because they fear what the Jews might do to them. Mary Magdalene has seen the risen Christ and Peter has seen the empty tomb. What all this now means must still feel a bit unsettling to them. Life will not be the same for the disciples.

At times of loss we too experience some of these same emotions and thoughts. While we may not fear other people, we may have a desire to hunker down and shut out the world. Sometimes there is a desire to visit familiar haunts or the scene of the tragedy. After a tragic loss in college I wanted to spend time at her house with her family. Then, after the funeral, I spent lots of time at the grave site. In those places I could feel a palpable desire to remain close. Even though I knew she was gone and life would never be the same, the desire was there. Being near brought a sense of comfort to my inner turmoil and unease over the future and my ‘now what?’ questions.

The disciples must have been feeling and thinking at least all of this when the risen Jesus appears among them. Jesus begins with some simple words: “Peace be with you”. Peace – that is the feeling needed in this situation. Peace – a sense of normalcy and an absence of worry and fear and doubt. Peace is surely what the disciples and followers of Jesus needed.

Jesus offers us the same thing. Whether the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or marriage, an unexpected move, a sudden illness, or many other possible scenarios, we can find ourselves driven to a place of sorrow or insecurity or discomfort. Into all that life can bring, Jesus desires to come and be present to us. There He will say, “Peace be with you”. When we need Jesus the most, He will be there most powerfully. In the hour of need, turn to Jesus and cry out to Him. He will bring you His peace.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being my peace again and again. I can trust in you. Help me to be a vessel of your peace too – bringing your peace to those in need. Amen.