pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Servant

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 3: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor”.

At the time of Isaiah, the Israelites are in exile in Babylon. They are living in a foreign culture that worships many gods. They are far outside of their normal ways of life and all the comfort and routine that it brings. The Israelites long for what was. Even though they know the temple and Jerusalem have been destroyed, it is still home. It is where God is found.

On our journeys of faith we can experience times in exile, times when we feel distant or separated from God. Depending on the root cause of our exile, the time there can vary. If it is a “small” sin, for example, one that we can confess and repent of easily, then our time of separation can be short. But if we sit in our sin or if the guilt or shame becomes too great, then the exile can lengthen. In these cases we come to the place the Israelites find themselves – we long to be restored and forgiven, but we feel stuck or trapped.

Today’s passage is the third of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs”. These songs tell of a servant who will draw the people back to Israel, restoring the twelve tribes. For the Israelites, they would find hope and promise in these words. Their first and immediate question would be: when? In verse three we read, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor”. The people long for God’s splendor to once again be shown in and through them. They long to be back home, back to living in right relationship with God.

The words of the prophet Isaiah ring true with us too. God desires to shine in and through us, his servants. God longs to be in right relationship with each of us, to restore and redeem us. The Holy One has chosen us too. May we walk in the light of Christ, the Redeemer, helping others to walk in the light of Christ too.

Prayer: Lord God, you called me by name. You have restored me and brought me back over and over. In my human weakness you have been so strong. You guide and lead me. Today, as I seek to walk with you and to shine your light into the world, guide my words and thoughts. Fill them with all of you. This day, once again, use me as you will. Amen.


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A Sign

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-14

Verse 12: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”.

King Ahaz is an ungodly king who has tried to solve the issues facing him with his own power and intelligence. Ahaz thought himself capable of protecting himself and Judah against the coming tide of Assyria. In spite of his arrogance and disobedience, God still reaches out to him. Out of the depths of his love for this lost soul and for Judah, the remnant of his chosen people, God offers himself to Ahaz. The Lord encourages Ahaz to ask for a sign, indicating that God is still ready to act.

Just as it was with Ahaz, sin separates us from God and from one another. Even when our sin is relatively “short term” we can stay away from or can be reluctant to go to God. Our guilt or shame makes us feel unworthy. When our sin has become a habit or has slid into a season in life, then our alienation grows stronger, the separation deeper. Ahaz has walked disobediently for a while. In his mind maybe he thinks he does not deserve to ask God a question. Or maybe he fears God’s answer. Maybe, just maybe, he does not want to ask because he believes he can still figure it all out.

These possible scenarios might sound familiar. It was not hard for me to imagine why Ahaz might have responded as he did, saying, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”. We have all been there. Yet in spite of the long disobedience, in spite of refusing to humble himself in God’s presence, in spite of it all, God still reaches out. What a loving God. What an amazing God.

The sign God gives is a sign of hope and promise. In spite of all that Ahaz and Judah have done (and not done), God promises a son, born of a virgin, to be Immanuel – God with us. This sign, this hope, this promise will be much more than God simply reaching out through a prophet. The sign, hope, and promise came and dwelt among us. Thanks be to God. Hallelujah!

Prayer: Lord God, your love is often hard to really understand. Whether it is a little stumble or something more major, your love and grace and mercy are always there, ready to be poured out upon me. It is a love that is hard to comprehend. Even so, it is a love you offer, time and again. Thank you so much for loving a sinner like me. 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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Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.


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Glory and Power

Reading: Revelation 1: 4-8

Verses 5-6: “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood… to Him be glory and power for ever and ever”.

Today and tomorrow we spend a brief time in the book of Revelation. The vision of the unfolding of the end of this present time is given to John by an angel. It is a story that plays out over a long period of time. Revelation contains a lot of frightful imagery and violence. Ultimately, though, Revelation is the story of God’s love and of how God will bring about the new creation. Revelation will end with the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of a new heaven and earth. Like humanity did in the original garden, we will once again walk, talk, and dwell with God.

John understands Jesus’ central role in restoring the world. Our passage today is the greeting and doxology of the letter. John begins with the eternal nature of Jesus – who was and is and is to come – and then identifies Jesus’ roles. He is “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth”. Each of these roles focuses on the central theme of Revelation: God’s love. As Jesus lived out His life on earth, He was a faithful and obedient witness to God’s love. He lived it out every day. At the end of His earthly life, Jesus was raised from the dead – the tomb was empty. His death was out of love for us and His resurrection demonstrates God’s eternal love for us. Because He lives we will also live. One day Jesus will return to rule over all the earth. He will rule over all the kings and over all of creation. Every knee will bow. His rule will not be one of power and might through force, but one of love.

John closes the greeting with worship and praise for his Lord Jesus. In verses 5 and 6 he writes, “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood… to Him be glory and power for ever and ever”. There is a connection between Jesus, His blood, and our sins. Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to die for us while we were yet sinners. Jesus shed His blood in love. On the cross Jesus took upon His perfect self the sins of the world. He then died as the atonement or payment for our sins. With His life Jesus was the sacrifice for our sins. That is love. Because the price is paid, we are freed from the guilt and shame and debt of paying for our sins. Through His blood we are redeemed and made new again. It is a foretaste of eternity.

May our reaction and response to this gift be the same as John’s – to proclaim to Him be the glory and power for ever and ever. All praise be to Jesus Christ, our Lord and King!

Prayer: God, thank you for your love. Thank you for a love that gave your only Son for me, a sinner saved by grace. May all I do and say bring you honor and glory today. Amen.


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Longing

Reading: Luke 13: 31-35

Verse 31: “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you are not willing”.

In our passage today we have a lament from Jesus. In His “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem” statement we can hear the sorrow and anguish in His voice. The city and people that Jesus loves have and will continue to reject Him and His love. We can hear how this hurts Jesus as we read, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you are not willing”. He has tried and tried and tried. He has loved and loved and loved. To no avail – they are not willing. To such as these the house is left desolate – without hope.

This emotional response to rejection was the one that God has felt for a long time. Ever since the rejection in the Garden, God has been feeling the pain of men and women and groups of people choosing other than God. Even after God came in the flesh so that His children would really see what His love looked and felt like, they still rejected the love that He offered. Not in spite of but for those who rejected Him, Jesus still went to the cross in the supreme demonstration of love. After walking out of the tomb, after defeating the power of sin and death, people still rejected Jesus.

It is not a whole lot different today. Yes, there are millions of Christians in the world. But there are billions who have not heard the good news of Jesus Christ and there are many more who have rejected Jesus’ love. And even for those who are followers, at times we choose the idol of self or power or success or possessions over His love. We choose sin over faith, rejecting Jesus and our relationship with Him over and over. And still He loves. But I can be sure it causes Jesus to lament over and over and over.

On the larger scale, society causes Jesus to lament too. Because we are a part of society, we have some guilt in this too. The prejudices and stereotypes and injustices and abuses of power that go on must cause Jesus to weep. This is not the way of love. The simple fact that people go to bed on the street and are always hungry and lacking clothing and basic care in the land of plenty must crush Jesus’ heart. And still He loves. Yes, how He longs to gather His children together. Yes, how Jesus longs to gather all of the children together.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, how you too long to gather all of your children together to a place of love and care and compassion. May our churches and our homes be just such a place. May it be so. Amen.


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Here I Am!

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

As our passage opens, Isaiah finds himself in God’s presence. God is seated on the throne and seraphs are above God. These 6-winged creatures are calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory”. To add emphasis to this powerful scene, the building shakes and smoke fills the space. I cannot imagine all of what Isaiah felt in those moments – awe, terror, pure joy, amazement? It is a scene of absolute power and might.

There, in that moment, Isaiah realizes how out of place he is. He finds himself in the presence of God and all of heaven. He realizes how unworthy he is to be there. Isaiah utters this confession: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. But instead of condemning him or removing him instantly, God sends a seraph to Isaiah with a burning coal in the tongs. With the coal, the seraph touches Isaiah’s unclean lips and takes away his guilt and atones for his sin. God redeems Isaiah. God prepares Isaiah for what comes next: hearing God’s call.

At times we experience God’s presence. Sometimes it is in the church – sometimes on a Sunday morning in worship, sometimes on a Tuesday afternoon in the stillness. Sometimes it is in the hospital – maybe with parents who have just brought a new life into the world, maybe with a family as they say goodbye and send a loved one on to their new life with God. We can and do experience God in many ways and in many settings. In some if these moments, we too can feel a little of what Isaiah felt – overwhelmed and in awe at the holy privilege that we are part of. I always feel blessed and am humbled by the experience. Once in a while, I can relate to Isaiah’s feeling of being unworthy to be in God’s holy presence that has settled on that place or situation. Yet God remains present to me as well.

No seraph comes with a hot coal, but the Holy Spirit surely leads and guides, assuring me of what I am a part of. Whether the prompting is to offer a scripture or a prayer or just to be present or maybe to give a hug, as the Spirit leads, I say in my heart as Isaiah said with his lips, “Here I am. Send me!”

When we accept our place in God’s presence and we allow God to work in and through us, the power of the Holy Spirit takes charge. When we find ourselves with an opportunity to be sent, to be in partnership with the Holy Spirit, may we trust fully in God’s call, joyously saying, “Here I am. Send me!”

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart, encourage my mind and spirit today so that I may faithfully respond to each call you give. Amen.