pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A New Thing

Reading: Isaiah 43: 16-19a

Verses 18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing”.

Isaiah was a prophet of the Lord God who lived in the 7th century BC, at the time of the rise of the Assyrian empire. As a prophet he often wrote or spoke about Israel’s disobedience towards God and the consequences thereof. Isaiah also reminded the people of God’s covenant love for them. The opening verses of today’s passage, which point towards hope, are an example of this. Isaiah’s words are often referenced in the New Testament and are found in songs and other writings used in worship today.

In our passage God speaks to the people, through Isaiah. The passage begins with a reminder of a time when God’s hand was at work to save the Israelites. Just after their exodus from Egypt, Pharaoh sent the army to bring them back. But God parted the sea, allowed the Israelites to pass through, drew the Egyptians in, and closed the waters in over them, killing the entire army. It was a dramatic and powerful movement of God on behalf of His chosen people. During our lives we too experience times when God has done the same for us – intervened in a powerful way. Sometimes God rescues us, sometimes God restores us or renews us or provides for us. Each of the become a touchstone moment in our faith. Like the Red Sea experience for the Israelites, these are times we can look back on to find hope and strength for our current battle or struggle or trial.

God then changes directions and says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past”. The people must have been having a “woe is me” moment. They are aware of the storm rising on the horizon as the Assyrians grew in strength. Their current and soon to be circumstances must have felt overpowering. We too find ourselves here now and then. A life change ahead leaves us worried and fearful. Like the Israelites, we look for God to do another big thing.

But God is not going there. In verse 19, God says, “See, I am doing a new thing”. Be patient. Keep your eyes open. Look for how God is at work. What will God do in the midst of or in the aftermath of the storm? Don’t always expect grand and earth-moving. Trust and see what the Lord God is doing. Dig deep, allow God to work in God’s ways, transforming you along the way. See how God is at work in you!

Prayer: God of all possibilities, you are ever at work – in the world, in those around me, in me. Continue to be alive and active in my life, helping me to see the new thing. At times, help me to trust, to be patient, to wait upon you. Amen.

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No Compartmentalizing!

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”.

On Ash Wednesday I encouraged the folks in worship to consider a fast for Lent. We spent time in prayer seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit for discernment concerning what it is that we could choose that would lead us closer to God. Today in our passage Isaiah speaks of the kind of fast that pleases God. As I fasted this past week, I came close to displeasing God with my fast. I became a little grumpy within and was tempted to let it out in my words, but the Holy Spirit squashed that thought and I turned to the Lord and He moved me past my difficulty. Praise God! Yes, it was good the Holy Spirit intervened. But to truly lead to growth and to become closer to God, this experience must change me within. God has brought this struggle to my mind and heart. I must choose to now be more aware of it and must work to not go down that road again next week when I fast again.

In our passage today Isaiah is reminding us first of the ways not to fast. This would apply for all spiritual disciplines that we practice – prayer, worship, Bible study, small groups… It does not please God if we live a life of sin – oppressing others, quarreling, abusing… – and then stop to fast for a time and then return to our sinful ways. Again, the same is true for all of our spiritual disciplines. We cannot compartmentalize our faith. For example, we cannot be a good Christian on Sunday mornings and then live as a pagan the rest of the week.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Again, we can insert pray, worship, study… in place of ‘fast’. The results will be the same. Whatever our spiritual practice, it must draw us closer to the heart of God. Starting in verse 6, Isaiah reveals the heart of God to us. It is a heart that cares for and walks alongside the weak and marginalized and oppressed. It is a heart that works to break the chains of injustice and oppression. It is a heart that works to give food and shelter and clothing to those in need. I must honestly ask myself, which of these did I work for this week? We must ask ourselves this because God desires that we live our faith out in the world. If not, we are compartmentalizing our faith.

Starting in verse 8, we read about the impact of choosing to live with the heart of God as we work to live our out faith. Verse 8 reads, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. Our light draws others to God. Our souls are healed. We will call out and God will say, “Here I am”. We will come closer in our walk with God. May we seek to discover and grow closer to the heart of God as we worship, as we pray, as we study our Bibles, as we meet with our fellow Christians, and as we live out our faith. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord, make your heart my heart. Align my thoughts, my words, my actions with your heart, O God. Amen.


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Laying Claim

Reading: Luke 4: 14-21

Verse 21: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.

Jesus returns home. He goes to the synagogue to teach. The scroll of Isaiah is brought to Him. He opens to and reads the section about good news, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, release for the captives, and the year of the Lord’s favor. These things will become most of the core of Jesus’ ministry. For a people living under the powerful rule of the Romans, these words would sound pretty good. But then, with these thoughts, they would be looking for a different kind of a Messiah or king.

Jesus sits down and then says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. It is truth, but the people in Nazareth do not see it. Jesus has a reputation starting to grow for being a good preacher, but to them this claim seems a bit much. Yes, Jesus was a really good kid growing up here, but to lay claim to what Isaiah is talking about?

The inability to see persists. People today will acknowledge that Jesus was a good moral teacher and maybe even did a miracle or two. But change my life? Influence the way I live? Don’t think so. Lots of people today do not see Jesus as someone who can change their lives, as someone who can free them from the powers of this world.

I think sometimes we sell Jesus short too. As a Christian we have a personal relationship with Jesus, but sometimes we think Him too small or ourselves too unworthy. We think that our problems are too small to bother Him about, so we guard our prayers or our expectations. Or we feel like Jesus must have better things or bigger concerns to worry about. But the passage from Isaiah that Jesus claimed – it was for one and for all. It is a vision that continues to unfold for all people. The words Jesus spoke He speaks to you and me too, in the present tense: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. Claim it. Today and every day, claim it.

Prayer: Lord, be my all in all. Today and every day, be my all in all. Amen.


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Light and Love

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Verse 3: “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”.

As Isaiah writes today’s words, most of Israel remains in exile in Babylon. Some of those have melded into the culture there and will not return to Israel. Exile has become home. A small remnant has returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but they feel like foreigners in a strange land. They are not strong or powerful; they feel weak and helpless. Yet Isaiah reminds them that God is with them.

Sometimes I think this is what many Christians feel like in this post-Christian era. We feel like we are in the minority. Much of the time our beliefs and understandings clash with today’s cultural norms. It feels like we are a small remnant. And often we feel powerless in the world, like strangers in a foreign land.

Isaiah speaks words of hope to Israel. He writes, “The Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you”. Even though they feel powerless and a bit out of place, God’s presence rises over them. Their power is not in arms or swords or thick walls around Jerusalem. Their power is in God’s presence with them.

We too can claim this message from Isaiah. In a world too easily filled with darkness, we too are surrounded by God’s presence. God’s presence in our lives fills us with a light and love that we can share with those we know and encounter who are living in darkness. In a nation where diversity and differences seem to be the priority, God’s light and love offer unity and cooperation. Verse 3 reads, “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”. As Christians, we know God’s light and love. May we bring that light and love into the broken and dark world, bringing hope and peace. May this verse be our prayer for the day and for the new year that lies just ahead. May our lives and our faith be a blessing to our world.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of peace and hope, of light and love. May your light and love shine out brightly every day. May the light and love of Jesus in my heart become a beacon of light to all who are lost and living in darkness. May it be so O God! Amen.


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Here I Am

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse Eight: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us’? And I said, ‘Here I am. Send me’!”

Isaiah is blessed by his vision of God on the throne. It is an awesome sight to behold. Yet he is also reminded of his own life and that it falls short of the glory of God. He knows he is unclean. As soon as he utters this confession, one of the seraphs takes a coal from the altar. It is brought to Isaiah and the coal is put to his lips. As this is done, the seraph says, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for”. Isaiah is made pure and holy once again in God’s sight.

For Christians today, we have a similar experience. In the house of the Lord, we sense God’s glory as His presence is with us in worship. As we approach the altar, we confess that we too are unclean, living with sin in our lives. Just as the coal is brought to Isaiah, the fruit of the vine and the bread is brought to us. When we take the elements that represent Christ’s atoning sacrifice upon our lips, our guilt is removed and our sins are no more. They have been atoned for by Jesus. Through the sacrament of communion we are each made holy and perfect in God’s sight.

Once Isaiah is made clean, he hears God asking, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us”? in response, Isaiah says, “Here I am. Send me’!”. Isaiah has been blessed and cleansed by God and now he is prepared to go out to serve the Lord as one sent by God. Today we receive the same call. This very day may we each respond as Isaiah did, saying, “Here I am. Send me!”


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Come into Grace

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

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

In our passage today Isaiah finds himself in the presence of the Lord. He sees God seated in the throne, high and exalted. Around the throne are beautiful and powerful seraphs – six-winged angels. These angelic creatures are singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty”. In the Bible things are repeated three times to show importance and for emphasis. Much as it would probably be for you or I, Isaiah is taken aback by the scene and where he finds himself.

In this passage Isaiah reminds me of the tax collector we find in Luke 18. This man stands off in the corner of the temple and will not even look towards heaven. He beats his chest and confesses to God, begging, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”. He senses his unworthiness in God’s presence. Isaiah comes to a similar realization, saying, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. Standing in the presence of the holy, holy, holy God, Isaiah feels his sin.

We all feel this way at points in our lives. Sin wins the day and we feel unworthy of being in God’s presence. We think our sin too great to be forgiven, never mind even bringing it into God’s presence. We may even feel like we need to sit in this place of guilt and shame for a period of time. Even though a part of us knows that God loves us, we feel like we must remain a bit distant. Like the tax collector standing in the corner and like Isaiah declaring “Woe to me!”, we hover on the edge of our relationship with God – not quite good enough to stand before God.

Some find this barrier at the foot of the cross or at the communion table, the places of grace. They see the sacrifice of Hesus or the cup and bread on the table and they may even hear the words of grace and love, but cannot quite approach. Maybe this is in a place of worship, maybe this is in their minds. God says the same to one and all: “Come, come to me. Find grace and love”. If you feel stuck in your sin or in the guilt and shame of sins past, know that you are invited to come into God’s grace and love. Know that you are loved and welcome.


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Resolute

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verse Seven: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

Isaiah begins our passage today acknowledging the word that sustains him and shares how each morning his ear is awakened to listen. For those who regularly invest time in reading their Bibles, they can relate well to what Isaiah is saying here. Whether it is early in the morning or over the noon hour or just before bedtime, daily reading of our Bibles leads to knowing God’s Word. In turn, the Word will sustain us over and over. As a result, Isaiah writes, “The sovereign Lord has opened my ears”. Time in our Bibles leads to our ears being opened more and more to God’s voice in our lives.

Time with God builds our connection with God, just as it would with any relationship. Isaiah goes on to write of not being rebellious. This too is our goal. But the reality is that we will sin. However, the more time we spend with God in prayer, worship, and reading our Bibles, the less we will sin. For example, there are things I did and said ten years ago that I now see as sin and strive to do no more. As we mature in our faith the narrow road becomes narrower as we better and better understand what it means to walk closely with our God.

As one grows in the faith so too does our trust in the Lord. In verse seven Isaiah writes, “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”. Isaiah trusts that as he walks in faith, God has his back. This does not mean that life will be perfect. In fact, in verse six, he writes of the abuse and violence that he has experienced because of his faith. At times we too will experience abuse or rejection or maybe even violence because of our faith. Yet even then we do know that God remains with us, helping us through. And maybe we can even get to the place the apostles got to, rejoicing that we could suffer for Christ.

Verse seven goes on to say, “I have set my face like flint and I know I will not be put to shame”. This verse will be echoed in the New Testament as Jesus turns toward Jerusalem for the last time as Palm Sunday approaches. As followers of Jesus, may we also be resolute in our faith, walking a firm and steadfast path, wherever God may lead us this day and each day. Amen.