pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Never the Same

Reading: Luke 19: 1-10

Verse 5: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”.

Zacchaeus is like many we see coming to Jesus. He is not popular. He lives on the edge or outside of society. He has few friends. He is looked down upon by the religious order and by almost everyone else. This tax collector is like others who came to Jesus: the lepers, the prostitute, the adulterous woman, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed… Zacchaeus has chosen his lot in life – one would bid for the lucrative position of tax collector. He chose wealth over many other things and over many relationships. He is where he is in life by his own choices.

How like Zacchaeus we are! We might not be tax collectors but we do often choose things ahead of our faith. Every time we sin – no matter how big or small – we are choosing self over God. Each time we make something more important than God we are elevating self over God. The choice is not limited to wealth or possessions. We can pursue a host of other things more than we pursue our faith. We chase after status and titles, after accomplishments and success. We can work hard so that others notice us or so that we gain that recognition. Yes, we can struggle with keeping faith the top priority in our life.

Zacchaeus heard Jesus was in town and wanted to see him. Zacchaeus was not looking to be healed or to have an audience with Jesus. He was curious. For Zacchaeus, yes, friends and some acceptance would have been nice. But life was okay. Wealth can make life feel okay. So can titles and recognition, possessions and status. Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree just so he can see Jesus pass by.

As Jesus gets to the place in the road adjacent to Zacchaeus’ tree, he stops, looks up at him, and says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”. The curious is captured by the curiosity. Life will never be the same for Zacchaeus. It was never the same for the lepers, the prostitute, … It was never the same for us. In this sense, we too were once like Zacchaeus. We were curious about Jesus and he eventually worked his way into our lives. Who do you know that is curious about or is searching for Jesus? Help them to know him today.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the words to speak today to turn hearts to you. Guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Hands and Feet

Reading: Luke 14: 12-14

Verse 13: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed”.

The list Jesus suggests in Luke 14 is not all-inclusive. Do not think that because you do not know or encounter anyone on this list, that you are off the hook. This is a general list of who was marginalized by society in Jesus’ day. Back then there was no government assistance, no shelters, homes, or places for the blind… Add to this the Jewish understanding of sin causing said ailments and conditions, and these were the people who lived on the fringes, who had to depend on the kindness of strangers to survive.

In my last community there was a sizeable homeless population. There were lots of opportunities to serve a meal, to help out financially or with other donations, to even engage personally. In my early years my involvement was helping to cook and servr a meal at the shelter or giving someone on the street a few dollars. As opportunity arose I began volunteering one afternoon a week at a day center for the homeless and thr economically disadvantaged. This connected me in a new way to those living on the fringes. In turn, I was able to invite someone to lunch instead of just giving them the $5 they were asking for. Maybe that is past your comfort zone, but there is a place to start.

Maybe you do not have homeless persons in your community. But there are certainly opportunities to give to those in need. Perhaps you cannot give monetarily, but we all have time. In my new community there are no homeless people, but there are many struggling financially. For these, help with an electric bill or with a little food or clothing are opportunities for ministry. For those who are gifted accordingly, helping someone to budget and understand money can make a huge difference.

There are many other ways to minister in every community. On Saturdays, during visitation time, folks from church go to the jail and hang out and color with the children whose moms or dads or grandparents are visiting a loved one. Our youth decorate Christmas cookies with the residents of assisted living centers and then make them Valentine’s cards later in the year. There are many ways we can be the hands and feet of Jesus. How can this happen in your community?

Prayer: Lord, help us all to see the opportunities to serve those on the edges. Lead us to be your hands and feet. Show us how to build relationships as we minister to those in need. Amen.


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Power

Reading: Luke 13: 31-35

Verse 31: “Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you'”.

Power is something Jesus, the Pharisees, and Herod all have. Power is something we all have too. The Pharisees and Herod see Jesus’ power as threatening to their power. We too can see Jesus’ power as something that can threaten our lives too.

Jesus uses His power to do good for others. He uses His power to teach a better way of life: the way of love. He also uses His power to heal and restore people. The physical healings of the blind, lame, deaf, crippled, mute, leprous… restore people back into community. The spiritual healings of the tax collectors, prostitutes, theives, adulterers… restore people to wholeness. Jesus’ power is a power that gives life to both the individual and the community.

The Pharisees’ and Herod’s power is centered upon themselves. It is used to take from others and to keep others down in order to build up their own comfort and prestige. It is the opposite of Jesus’ giving power. Some Pharisees say to Jesus, “Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you”. Go away Jesus, you are raining on our parade. Jesus sees right through them. Basically He says He has things to do and they or Herod cannot and will not get in the way.

This too is true of our power. When we follow God’s lead and use our power to do the right thing, to correct the wrong thing, to share Jesus’ love and care, to help one in need – nothing on earth can stop us. Yes, some can oppose us too and some can put up barriers, but they are just bumps in the road. Just as it was with Jesus, no obstacle can stop what God wants to accomplish in and through us. God will always prevail. This fact is what kept Jesus driving towards Jerusalem, towards the cross. Jesus had an unshakable faith in God’s plan. May we live the same way all day, every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, may I use the power I have in you to bring good, to offer love, to lift others up. Amen.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 19-20

Verse 19: “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered”.

The book of Zephaniah is a prophetic book that deals largely with the people’s sin and the consequences thereof. In the last dozen verses or so the prophet begins to paint the picture of restoration. In the final two verses, our passage for today, Zephaniah closes his book with words of hope and promise. Just as God never leaves us dead in our sin, so too will He redeem Israel.

In verse 19 Zephaniah writes, “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered”. God will one day gather all His people. He will rescue the lame and all others who are suffering. God will give them praise and honor. To those who are faithful, God says, “I will bring you home”. Home is where God is. Home is eventually in heaven. God will bring restoration. Wholeness. Relief from all that ails and entangles. Restoration.

These words that God spoke to the people of Zephaniah’s time echo down through the ages. They fall upon our ears today. These words of hope and promise apply in so many situations. These words are realized when one first claims Jesus Christ as Lord. They are realized each time one turns to Jesus Christ as Savior, each time we confess and experience redemption. These words can be claimed each time God rescues us from a difficult trial. They can be claimed when we lay a faithful follower to rest and they have been completely restored by the Lord.

Our God is a God of hope and promise, of redemption and restoration. Claim the message of Zephaniah 3:19-20 today. Declare it to yourself and proclaim it to the world. In doing so, you will be blessed as you bless others with the message of hope and promise.

Prayer: Lord, I rejoice in knowing you. It brings contentment and peace in my daily life and it brings hope and assurance for my future. In the trial, I know you will rescue me, bringing redemption and restoration. Gather me each day into your abiding presence so that I may be your witness all of my days. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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Expanding Welcome

Reading: Luke 14:1 and 7-14

Too often we help another person because we foresee repayment.  I’ll come help you move because I know we’re moving in a couple months.  I’ll come help you brand cattle because, well, I own cattle and they’ll need to be branded soon.  I’ll buy a car from you because when you are ready to buy that boat, I know you’ll come to me.  I’ll help you with your event at church because I know the event I lead is just around the corner.

In today’s passage Jesus is saying ‘no’ to think kind of thinking.  It was all too common (and still is today) to think ‘What’s in it for me?’ instead of simply being a good neighbor or following where the Holy Spirit is leading.  When we do things with these attitudes and are only willing to spend time with those just like us, God’s kingdom does not grow very much.  When we rub elbows only with people just like us, then we are keeping the circle small and the walls high.

Jesus came to reverse this.  He ate with the sinners, healed the outcast and poor, talked with the tax collectors, and worked on the Sabbath.  Jesus acknowledges that if we invite only our friends, yes, they will repay us.  He also says that then our reward will be done.  Instead, Jesus says to invite the poor, lame, crippled, and blind.  They cannot repay us but God’s reward will be there in heaven for us.  This is wonderful.  But we are also rewarded here on esrth.

When we serve and live life alongsidethe poor, lame, crippled, blind, and other social outcasts if our day, then we experience true giving.  It is giving without strings attached.  It is pure and free and feels so good.  We also experience true gratitude.  We do so within ourselves when we realize how blessed we are.  We experience it in the thankful and grateful hearts of those we come alongside.  Loving those on the margins and the outcasts aligns us with God’s ways and purposes.  It is here that we are closest to God.  It is here we are truly blessed.