pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A New Earth?

Reading: Isaiah 65: 21-25

Verse 24: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear”.

God’s vision for a new heaven and earth begins with caring for basic needs. The people of God will have houses to live in and food to eat. This leads to enjoying the work of their hands and to a better quality of life. People will live longer and children will not experience misfortune. In Isaiah’s day this vision gave hope to those living without these basics. The realization of this vision would bring hope to many yet today.

Many in our community and likely in yours struggle to meet basic needs. It is currently 7° outside. There are families that are cold this morning because there is no propane in the tank. They are running the oven with the door open for heat. In many pantries and freezers there is food aplenty. Yet many children will go to school hungry. There they will receive breakfast but the adults back home do not. The vision in Isaiah is wonderful. But we cannot be content with waiting for that future reality. It is too distant from many people’s daily reality. In our communities this should not be so. As people of faith, we should not be comfortable with the poverty and inadequacy of food and safe shelter in our midst. Bringing a better version of life for all could be more of our vision.

Father God is casting a vision for all of his children. God promises, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear”. God is eager to be in connection with us. In my mind’s eye I see God leaning in, hand cupped to ear, waiting to hear our prayers and our praise. The vision we find in Isaiah ends with a beautiful image – all of creation living in harmony and peace. There will be no harm or destroying on God’s holy mountain. This is a reference to the new Jerusalem, the new earth.

Can this not be an image for today, for our communities? Caring for and meeting basic needs begins to build a relationship. The building of a relationship can lead to sharing God’s hope and peace. As people of faith, may we seek to enter the lives of the hurting and broken, first meeting basic needs and then sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to bring hope. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, we have so much and are blessed over and over. Make us aware of and responsive to the needs around us. Bend my heart towards what breaks yours. Lead me to action. Use me to make this place more like Isaiah’s vision. Amen.


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Strength, Hope, Power

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2: 1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”.

Paul opens chapter two by addressing the return of Jesus. Some have claimed that Jesus has returned and the Thessalonians fear they missed out. Paul encourages them not to be deceived but to remember what they were taught. The basic plan has been laid out. The time has not yet come. At times we too can wonder if we are on the brink of the return. Natural disasters and plagues and wars and violence have led people to wonder if the end is near. After all, these are signs to look for. We must also balance this with what Jesus said – he will come again like a thief in the night. The accompanying advice was to always be prepared and ready. If we are stuck in worry and fear, we are not prepared and ready.

In Paul’s time and in our time many live with fear and anxiety and worry over happenings in our world and in their lives. To hear and understand the truths and promises is not the same thing as living into them. I can hear and understand Jesus’ words to be prepared and ready to meet him at any moment. But can I live my life always within that reality? Therein lies the struggle.

In today’s passage Paul reminds the Thessalonians that “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”. God has chosen each who believed on the gospel and in Jesus. Because of their good confession of Jesus as Lord, they are saved. Paul goes on to encourage them to “stand firm and to hold onto the teachings”. The promises and truths that Paul and others taught will help them to stand firm in the face of fear and anxiety and worry. Paul closes this chapter by praying to the Lord Jesus Christ for the Thessalonians. Paul seeks encouragement and hope and strength for them as they continue to live out their faith.

These words of Paul speak to us as well. When the clouds seem to be rising, may we too remember that we who have confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior are saved. Our salvation is secure. Nothing in this world can separate us from that. May we also remember that the Holy Spirit and Jesus himself, the mediator, continues to offer prayers and intercessions on our behalf, keeping us ever before the throne of God. Knowing all this to be true, may we lay our worries and burdens down before the Lord as we call upon his strength, hope, and power to live this day for the glory of the Lord God. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for all you have done and for all that you continue to do. Thank you too for the gift of your constant presence in my life. As the Holy Spirit lives and dwells in me I am reminded again and again of your love and truth. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Merciful and Just

Reading: Luke 18:1-8

Verse 3: “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'”.

Today Jesus teaches us to pray and not to give up. The scene in the parable begins with the one able to answer the request. The judge has the power but is not concerned with God or with men. He feels that his power has placed him above and out of the reach of anyone or anything. Any courtroom decision comes with a price – justice had very little to do with his courtroom proceedings.

Next we meet a woman who is about the exact opposite of the judge. She is powerless. She has no husband to speak for her and she lives in a society that does not value women. She operates on justice. In verse three they meet. Here we read, “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'”. Right is right. That does not change tomorrow or any day to come. So she keeps coming at the judge day after day. Not right away, but after a while the judge gives in. The widow cannot pay him off yet he grants her justice. Why? So she will not wear him out.

The woman perseveres because she is right. She seeks justice. Even the corrupt judge recognizes this. Instead of barring her from court or refusing to acknowledge someone without means, he does what is right. Here we find our model of God – the one who always does what is right, the one who is on the side of justice and the weak and powerless. When our prayers are right and just and when we bring them to God over and over, our God hears and answers. God is merciful and just and loving. In our times of need, God draws near and is present to us. In our persistence we grow stronger and our faith grows deeper. As we bring holy and just prayers to our God, know that God hears and answers.

Prayer: Lord God, when my prayers align with your will and your way, they are just and right. When I cry out for your mercy and grace with a repentant heart, you are pleased. Thank you for being a God of both justice and mercy, of grace and love. You are an awesome God! Amen.


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God Remains

Reading: Psalm 42: 6-11

Verse 8: “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is within me – a prayer to the God of my life”.

Psalm 42 is an honest Psalm. The psalmist looks deep within and admits the hurt and pain and then asks God, why? Why must I be downcast? Why must my soul feel so disturbed? Where are you God? These are honest, heartfelt questions. They are questions we have all felt like asking before. In fact, if we are feeling like asking them now we can be sure that there are people around us who feel this way.

Even though there is no shortage of hurting in our world, we are reluctant to bring this to light with our friends and especially with our God. We do not like to share what we feel is bad news. We do not want to reveal our cracks and weaknesses. We fear driving away our friends. So we try and hold it in. We try and bottle it up. And then there is God. God is the God of love and light and hope. How could I bring this to God? We can and do seek relief or guidance, but to lay our hurts and pains bare before God feels as if we are being too exposed, too vulnerable, too weak…

In verse 8 we read, “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is within me – a prayer to the God of my life”. The psalmist chooses to remain connected to God day and night. Even though he is struggling and is full of questions and hurt, he stays connected. In the prayer that is the Psalm, he asks the questions. Why God? Why? And God’s response? God listens. God hears. There is no immediate resolution, no quick answers. But there is a connection to God, a relationship that is alive and well. God wants to walk with us always – whether we are full of joys, lost in sorrows, or anywhere in between. This is the message of Psalm 42.

The psalmist closes with hope. He is in the valley and has invited God into the valley. God is there. He also knows that the eternal God will remain. “I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God”. We are never alone. God remains.

Prayer: God, for those who feel disconnected and troubled today, help me to enter their valley and to be present. Help me then to be love and light and hope. Guide me to share your abiding presence with another today. Amen.


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Vindicated through Presence

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verses 7-8: “Therefore have I set my face like Flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near”.

Our passage from Isaiah speaks of one who is faithful. He or she finds strength in the word of God, is one who wants to be taught, and has open ears to hear. The faithful one also knows that suffering may come. They will accept the beating, the hair pulling, the mocking and being spat upon. The faithful are willing to suffer for their faith and for their God. This comes from an assurance that because God is with them, “I will not be disgraced”. There is a sure trust and confidence in God.

The faithful have been present for a long, long time. In the Old Testament many a prophet sought to faithfully walk with God, sharing God’s word, warnings, and encouragement with the people. They often faced suffering because of the role they had. In the New Testament Jesus picks up this mantle. After Jesus, many of the disciples assume this role. Down through the ages and even this day faithful disciples continue to seek God with all their hearts while facing suffering because of their faith and the life their faith calls them to.

As we draw nearer, as we remember the last days of Jesus’ life, the focus of the Suffering Servant becomes Jesus Himself. Jesus was always seeking to do the will of God, was always speaking truth into people’s lives, was always willing to engage the other. Because of these practices, Jesus was often criticized, challenged, looked down upon. Yet Jesus always pressed on, fully aware of the role that He had been called to play. He was always humble and full of integrity. He was always loving and honest. He was always forgiving, even to His persecutors. In the end Jesus was beaten and spat upon and ridiculed. Always He trusted in God and the plan. “Therefore have I set my face like Flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near”.

God is near to us as well. The world continues to clash with our faith. It always will. They are built upon two very different kingdoms. As we walk in faith this day, may we walk with a confidence in God: God is here, with us every moment. God will vindicate the faithful. “It is the sovereign Lord who helps me”.

Prayer: Lord of all, walk with me daily, filling me with your presence. May I delve into your holy Word, seeking to know your ways and to discern the path you call me to walk. May I trust in you alone, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.


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What Then

Reading: Luke 3: 7-18

Verse 10: “What then should we do”?

Perhaps you remember a few years ago when the WWJD bracelets and t-shirts were popular. The WWJD stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” It was a way to focus Christians in on how they should live out their faith. In many ways, John the Baptist is a precursor to this movement. He is helping people to prepare for the way of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

There was a certain feel-good aspect to the whole WWJD movement. Although John the Baptist was a bit confrontational, there was a feel-good aspect to what John was doing out there in the wilderness. Our passage today begins with John addressing those who only want to look religious. The “vipers” look good but their faith has no depth. They are the folks today who come to church on Sunday morning and go home and swear at the television because their team is losing a ball game.

Some in the crowd hear John’s confrontation not as insult but as challenge. It is interesting to note who hears the challenge. The ordinary people in the crowd and the dreaded tax collectors and the hated Roman soldiers. Yes, there is a Good Samaritan angle to this passage too. In a similar way to this later teaching of Jesus, the religious leaders only hear insult in John’s words. He warns them, saying not to just claim Abraham as their father and think all is good. To many today, John would say, ‘Don’t just show up for an hour on Sunday and wear your little WWJD bracelet to work (or school)’. Just saying or pretending to be a Christian isn’t worth much.

To those whose hearts hear John’s message, there is a good conviction that occurs. In response they ask him, “What then should we do”? John’s response is what the WWJD gear was supposed to do: illicit the godly response in all situations. In essence, John said, ‘Do the right thing’. Share what you have, treat others well, don’t abuse your power, be content. Jesus would say, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. May we each go and do likewise.

Prayer: O Lord, sometimes I fall short. When I do, send your Holy Spirit, loud and clear, reminding me of my call to love and care for all of your children. May it ever be so. Amen.


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Engagement

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 16: “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief”.

Hannah is in a tough spot. She is barren in a culture that places high value on producing children. This is the main purpose of marriage. Her husband clearly prefers Hannah, his first wife, but that relationship remains intact largely because his second wife has produced the all-important offspring. Without any children of her own, Hannah is vulnerable. She would be all alone if Elkanah died or if he decided that Hannah was displeasing as a wife. Hannah’s shame over being barren would have also extended to the community. She would have been looked down upon and usually found herself outside of the circles of women who would gather periodically.

Year after year Hannah has endured Peninnah’s provocations and the cultural shame of being childless. Her situation is no fault of her own. Nearing the point of breaking, she finds herself in the temple. She pours out her heart to God. Instead of seeing a woman deep in pain and in need of comforting, Eli the priest assumes she is drunk. Eli makes a quick assumption. How often we do the same.

We see a person who appears to be homeless and we jump to conclusions about their work ethic or their problems with drugs or alcohol. We see a young mom struggling with her kids in line at the grocery store and we assume things about her parenting skills… These are just two examples of the countless ways that we judge, infer, misread, oversimplify, stereotype… people. As was the case with Eli, often we are wrong. We do not know the person or their real situation or the many circumstances leading up to that moment. But unlike Eli, we usually do not take the time to talk with them, to get to know them, to hear their story. At least Eli did that for Hannah.

When we, like Eli, jump to conclusions, when we quickly label, when we make assumptions, may we pull ourselves up short, take a breath, and connect with that person we have sinned against. May we choose to risk engagement, trusting in the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Prayer: Jehovah, give me eyes to see as you see. Move me past first impressions and on to honest conversations. Soften my heart to love others as you love them. In doing so, allow me to see you in them and they to see you in me. Amen.