pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Way

Reading: Isaiah 35: 1-10

Verse 8: “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness”.

Isaiah 35 paints a picture of hope for all peoples. For those of Isaiah’s time, those living in captivity in Babylon would envision a future back in the Promised Land with hope. For the Jews living in Jesus’ day, they would envision a future of hope too. Their vision would not include the Romans or any other overlord. For Christians living today, we read this passage and envision a day when all of creation is restored to new life. For each group, the Messiah is the focal point. The one who frees and brings healing and wholeness is what is awaited.

Isaiah writes, “the wilderness will rejoice and blossom”. What was dry and without life will flow with water and new life will spring up. The shoot from the stump of Jesse – that which we just read about in Isaiah 11 and Romans 15 – will bring healing to all things. As believers in Jesus Christ, we know that the Messiah has come. Jesus brought life to our dryness and his living waters bubble up within us, like springs in the desert, renewing and refreshing us.

In verse eight we read, “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness”. As followers of Jesus Christ we know this highway. In repentance and faithful obedience we walk this road every day. It is not an eight lane super highway. It is a narrow path. While it is narrow his yoke is easy and the burden light. Once we enter the Way of Holiness, life lived in Christ, the journey becomes purposeful and the steps are clear. The steps are not always easy to take, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, they are clear. It is a road that once walked brings joy, love, hope, peace, and so much more. As we walk in the Way, we approach Zion and the everlasting crown referred to at the end of Isaiah 35. May the Lord bless the journey today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for walking with me. Because you are always there, I never go alone. Thank you for your abiding presence and guiding Spirit. Lead me today, O great Jehovah. Amen.


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The Call

Reading: Matthew 3: 1-6

Verse 3: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'”.

John the Baptist was an anomaly for his day. He would be so in about any age. He lived a very rustic lifestyle out in the wilderness. He preached a basic message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near”. His passion and sincerity drew a few at first but soon his ministry led many to go out to see John the Baptist. He was the one of whom Isaiah was speaking when he wrote, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'”.

John was offering a simple but challenging message. It took some effort to go out to see him. The real work began after you tackled both of these things. John the Baptist’s message did not bring peace, but disruption and change and transformation. To repent, to be baptized, led to a commitment to walk a new road. One was leaving behind a sinful life and seeking to walk the narrow road. Emerging from the waters meant a call to walk a more devout and God-honoring faith.

Maybe through a song, maybe through a prayer, maybe through the message, God will speak into people’s hearts. As they hear the challenge, as they hear the call to something new, will they step forward, willing to risk transformation? Or will they try and ignore the call, seeking instead to remain on the soft and easy path? May the Holy Spirit be at work in our churches today, preparing the way for the coming Messiah. God, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, a voice to speak. Challenge me today to step into the wilderness, into the uncomfortable. May I find you there. Amen.


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Overflow

Reading: Romans 15: 7-13

Verse 7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”.

Stop. Read verse seven again. Slowly. The words “as Christ accepted you” are powerful. Jesus accepted me as I am. That includes my sin, yes. But, more than that, Jesus accepted me knowing that I would sin again. And again. And again. A love so perfect, accepting me as I am, is a powerful love. The “you” is also universal. Jesus’ love and acceptance knew no bounds. Many rejected Jesus. But that did not stop him from loving even these.

Rejection is something we must consider if we are to really live out this verse. To the proper Jews, the Gentiles were base and vile. They were to be avoided. But to Jesus, to Paul, to the early Christians, the Gentiles became ones to accept, to love as Jesus had first loved them. The Gentiles were simply people in need of Jesus’ saving love. The rejection did not come from the Gentiles. It came from those proper religious folks who would not go there themselves. Jesus experienced this kind of rejection too. He ate with the sinners, touched the lepers, healed on the Sabbath. Oh the things Jesus would do to love another.

That’s what this passage is calling us to. It is so easy to love those like us, those that fit the same boxes we fit. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”. For Jesus, the “you” was universal. Ours should be as well. But be prepared – some will ridicule you for ministering to that people or in that neighborhood. Some will reject you because you love and accept those kinds of people. Do not worry – Jesus was rejected too. To those who accepted Jesus, he was life. That is what brought praise to God.

I close with Paul’s closing: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

Prayer: Oh God! Fill me with that hope, joy, and peace. Fill me so much that I overflow. Use me today as you will, O Lord my God. Amen.


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Spirit of Unity

Reading: Romans 15: 4-7

Verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”.

In the early church in Rome they were struggling to all be the church. One dominant group, the Jewish Christians, were clinging to the Torah and other writings and teachings of the Jewish faith. The “newer” believers, who were called “Gentiles”, did not have this long history with God. Their entrance to the faith was based upon believing that Jesus was the Messiah and then being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in this order for the last two). The central issue in this early church came down to how much of the Hebrew scriptures… were essential to being a Christian. The answer to this question has played itself out for two thousand years.

The people in the church in Rome basically fell into three groups. One group wanted to use all of the Jewish scriptures… for “membership” in the church. One group did not want to use any of these as benchmarks for membership. In the middle was a group that felt some was useful and some was not essential. Paul, in general, fell into this middle group. This was quite a change for Paul. Up until pretty recently, Paul was known as Saul. As Saul he was a Pharisee – an uber follower of all the laws and Jewish teachings from the scriptures. In verse four we read Paul’s words to the church. Here we read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”. We can learn from all of the Hebrew scriptures… But that does not necessarily mean following every single law and writing. And it does not mean that we willy-nilly pick what we like and do not like. With endurance and with encouragement from the entirety of scripture, we find our way forward. This has been the Jewish practice for thousands of years. They learned that the black letters do not always tell us how to interpret and apply something written to another time or context. So they dig down deep and find the intent or the purpose or the meaning of the law… To say “we’ve always done it this way” and to insist that’s the only option is sometimes harmful and sometimes limits the fruit produced for the glory of God. But that is what the Jewish Christians were saying. They wanted the Gentiles to first become good Jews – follow all of the law, do things as we have always done them. The early church did find the way forward. A spirit of unity prevailed and led them to move forward, accepting one another. God was glorified, the church grew, Christ was taught and followed. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, as it was, so it remains. It is not always easy being the church. Made up of fallible human beings, we still struggle with what it means to simply love you and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us. Lead and guide us, as you did the early church, to be one in you. Amen.


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True Transformation

Reading: Psalm 72: 1-7 and 18-19

Verse 4: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”.

Psalm 72 picks up on the themes of Isaiah 11. God’s “royal son” will rule with righteousness and justice. There will be prosperity for the land. This ideal leader “will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”. The poor and needy, the marginalized and outcast, will share in the blessings that come with prosperity. The rich will not simply get richer. The good ruler insures that all are included in the blessings.

The psalmist compares the falling rain to the good ruler’s reign. The rain falls on the whole land – on the good and the bad, on the rich and the poor. In the same way, a good ruler’s efforts fall on all people. Because the good ruler cares for all people, it breeds compassion amongst the people. The ones who have prospered, the ones who have been blessed, become blessings to those without. A good ruler influences the people. A generous ruler soon leads generous people. An empathetic ruler soon leads empathetic people.

We follow a leader who was generous and compassionate, who had a special love for the poor and needy, who cared for and was a blessing to all people. If we are true followers, we will be generous, compassionate… We have the power to be God’s light and love in the world. We can feed the needy, stand up for those on the margins…

In verse eighteen we get a good reminder: God alone “does miraculous deeds”. The changing of hearts, the healing of brokenness, the breaking down of walls – this is the stuff of God, not us. We can do much good in the world on our own. True transformation comes only when God is involved. We can do our part and it is often necessary. God alone changes lives. May our lives tell the story of Jesus and his love. In the process may we be blessed to see the Lord of all at work transforming hearts.

Prayer: God of love and compassion, use me today. Allow me to bear witness to your blessings in my life. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to say and do as you will. Work in the lives of the lost and broken today, O God! Build your kingdom of love in this time and place. Build it in me. Amen.


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God’s Plan

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 69: “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David”.

Today’s passage comes early in Jesus’ birth narrative. So far in Luke, the births of John the Baptist and Jesus have been foretold. Zechariah doubted the angel Gabriel’s birth announcement and was struck silent. Mary has visited her cousin Elizabeth. Zechariah has been unable to speak for nine months. He is finally able to speak after naming his son John, in accordance with Gabriel’s directions. Zechariah is then filled with the Holy Spirit and gives us today’s prophesy.

Zechariah begins by praising God for coming to redeem his people. He connects into our reading from the past two days (Jeremiah 23:1-6) as he says, “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David”. Zechariah echoes Jeremiah’s prophesy that promises a righteous branch will come from David’s line. Zechariah also echoes the praises for salvation and mercy that will come from this shepherd king. Zechariah also notes how blessed we will be as followers of this king. We will be able to serve him all our days without fear because his holiness and righteousness will be our holiness and righteousness. This is because Jesus Christ will become both the Lord of life and the Lord over death. In Christ alone we find victory over both sin and death. Praise God!

As we draw near to the end of the Christian year and prepare to begin a new year as Advent dawns on December 1, it is good to remember the roots of our faith. Just as the first part of Zechariah’s song connected back to Jeremiah, the second part also finds roots in the Old Testament. In the second half of his song, Zechariah connects back to Isaiah. The plan just beginning to unfold as we near Advent has been at work for a long time. In fact, since before the creation of the world.

As we live out our faith today and in the weeks to come we will surely enjoy God’s mercy, grace, protection, and salvation. We too are part of God’s plan to redeem and restore the world. May we also choose to serve without fear, being light and love to all the world. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Redeeming Lord, as the evils of this world rise up, shield me. As the temptations to sin creep in, extinguish those flames. As opportunities come to serve you, gird me up and lead me out to proclaim your love and mercy. Amen.


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In the Midst

Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Verse 1: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”.

The overall theme of our passage from Jeremiah 23 is that one day the Lord will reign. In essence, we know the end of the story. Even though we know this, sometimes we endure hardship and suffering during the story. Jeremiah begins our passage by addressing the bad shepherds who are negatively affecting the flock of Israel. To these the Lord declares, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”. This word of warning comes with some explanation.

God is speaking to those who are leading Israel. The kings and priests are the primary leaders. These leaders have scattered parts of the flock. By not caring for and watching out for the most vulnerable of the sheep, they have driven them away. These have sought care and protection elsewhere. Unfortunately, they often find greater danger outside the flock. The hardening of hearts within the flock has led to destruction. Love and care and empathy for one another is a memory. When the leaders become inwardly focused, soon the people do too. God promises to bring evil on these bad shepherds.

This word from Jeremiah remains relevant today. On many days it seems that our leaders are more concerned with fighting each other than they are with leading and caring for the people. The cost of this is great. The more they fight, the more the sheep scatter and wander into isolated camps. The hurling of bombs from afar leaves no space in the middle. The two polarized ends see anyone not in their camp as the opposition. The arts of dialogue and compromise and win-win seem to be lost. But we must remember we are just in the midst of the story. Jeremiah also reminds us, “the days are coming”. Christ will reign. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, help us to see more than just ourselves, more than our own little camp. Open our hearts to the other, to sitting at the table even with those that we are not totally aligned with. Remind us over and over that there is but one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit. Thank you, God. Amen.