pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Light in the Darkness

Reading: Isaiah 9: 1-2

Verse 1: “In the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles”.

We have all experienced times of isolation and darkness. These can be caused by an illness. For example, when the flu or other sickness drags on and on, we reach a point that feels like we’ve been sick forever. Isolation or darkness can also be caused by mother nature. A fierce winter snowstorm can leave us stuck in the house for a number of days. Soon enough we begin to feel closed in upon and cut off from the rest of the world. In these and other similar experiences, we long to be reconnected with others, to be freed from that which binds us. In this sense we can relate to Zebulun and Naphtali, the two lands that Isaiah writes to in our passage today.

These two tribes were conquered and have been living under a foreign power’s oppression for many years. It has been so long that they feel like this is just life. Their time of isolation and darkness has gone on for generations. Many of the people have given up hope for a different tomorrow, slowly coming to accept this situation as the new normal. Isaiah indicates that this situation was God’s way of humbling these two tribes. It is into this situation that Isaiah brings today’s words of hope.

The passage opens with this declaration: “there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress”. The oppression will not be forever. Isaiah continues with words of hope, adding, “in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles”. The time is not right now but it is coming. God has a plan to rescue and restore Zebulun and Naphtali. And not only these two tribes but the Gentiles as well. In verse two Isaiah goes on to write, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. In the future the light will dawn. They are, in fact, a long way from the end of the tunnel – 700 years. But there is hope now because there is light at the end of the tunnel.

We too can claim this hope and promise as well as helping others claim it as well. Isaiah speaks of a God who will not allow suffering to be endless. According to God’s plan, all things will be made new. In the interim, we are promised life abundant. We will suffer and feel isolation and darkness at times. This is unavoidable in our earthly life. But the light is close. God’s love never fails. The Spirit’s presence is always with us – we are never alone. We can lean into God, trusting in his plans, holding to the light and love of Jesus. We know the great light. May we cling to Jesus every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my strength and my shield, my light and my hope. In all times, but especially in the hard times, remind me over and over of your love and care. Help me to be these things to people walking in isolation and darkness, that they might get a glimpse of you. Amen.


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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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We Wait

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7 and 17-19

Verse 3: “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

The psalmist is crying out to God. He is pleading for an end to their suffering. You can feel the emotion in the psalmist’s words in verse two: “Awaken your might; come and save us”. The psalmist knows that God can come and relieve their suffering. He also knows that God has not come yet. Advent is very much the season of the now and not yet. This Psalm has that same quality to it as well. This comes across in verse four.

“How long?” is a familiar question when one is in the midst of a time of suffering. The psalmist wants to know how long God’s anger will smolder. There is a recognition of the people’s sin and that it connects to their present circumstances. Yet even then we come to the point of asking, “How long”? It is a question we too ask when living out the consequences of our sin. We can be forgiven by God and even by those we hurt, but sometimes there is an earthly consequence or impact of our sin. Often we want that to end sooner than it does. Even though we too may cry out to God, we recognize why we are where we are.

In just over a week we will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The light is coming into the world. This too is the now and not yet. We long, but we wait. May we join the psalmist as we wait, crying out to God, “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

Prayer: Lord, I wait. I know the light and love is already here. Yet I wait. Join me in the waiting as we walk towards the night that we celebrate the birth. Be with me, O God. This I pray. Amen.


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Enduring Patience

Reading: James 5: 7-10

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”.

Patience, patience, patience. Patience is such a tough thing to practice, especially when the situation is difficult. The difficulty can come from a variety of angles. For the brothers and sisters in Christ that James is writing to, the difficulty comes from the persecution and suffering that they are enduring. When we have been experiencing times of stress or distress, we have known how hard it is to patiently endure. This is what James is addressing in our passage today.

James turns to a familiar test of patience. He encourages them to consider the farmer. The farmer sows the seeds and then he patiently waits. With the sun and the rain that will surely come, he waits, trusting that the land will “yield its valuable crop”. It can be hard to have patience when growing crops. I have had a home garden for many years now. As I reflect back on each season I can now remember a familiar scene playing out. We would plant carrots, lettuce, and so on. Then about a week later I would go out to the garden, sometimes multiple times each day, checking to see if those little green shoots had popped up yet. Soon it became a practice in patience. Early in my gardening career my mind would question or doubt if the shoots took a little too much time to come up.

Our faith is a lot like that too. When the first trials or seasons of suffering come along, we do not have much patience. We quickly cry out, “How long, O God”? But as we spend a few more seasons in the valleys, experiencing God’s presence and strength and guidance… over and over again, we begin to build trust in God. Our doubts and questions and fears ebb away. We soon see these seasons as times of growth and maturing.

In verse eight James writes, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”. Be like the farmer, trust in God. For all who are struggling in the trial right now, cling to these words of hope and promise. To do so yields an unshakable belief that becomes your rock. As the faithful Christian endures the storms with patience and faith, we do come to know the truth of Jesus coming near. He never leaves us or forsakes us, especially in the trials. Be near to us, Lord Jesus, this we pray.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my anchor in every stormy gale. In the lows and in the highs and everywhere in between, your Holy Spirit is ever present. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Marching Orders

Reading: Isaiah 65: 17-20

Verse 19: “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people”.

In today’s reading God lays out a beautiful future. In verse 17 God promises, “I will create new heavens and a new Jerusalem”. To the Israelites, this would be music in their ears. To think of what God could create would bring needed joy and hope and encouragement to the people. Jerusalem, a term representing all of God’s people, will be God’s delight. God says, “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people”. This vision is a wonderful image to hold in one’s mind and heart.

Today, on Veterans Day, we remember the many men and women who have served our country. Scores upon scores upon scores have served our nation and many gave life for our freedom. The idea of a new Jerusalem ties in. War is a hard thing. War is sometimes necessary. In our nation’s history, war has been fought to make the world a better place. A world without slavery or fascism or genocide or terrorism is a better world. Today we recognize and honor the many men and women who have been a part of making the world and our nation better. I appreciate their service to a nation founded and still guided by faith. The ideal of world peace remains the ideal. I am grateful for those who have served and for those who still serve to protect our nation and this ideal.

In the second half of verse 19 and in verse 20, God fleshes out the picture of a new heaven and earth. There will be no more weeping or crying. Life will be long-lived. God’s vision for what will be is a glimpse of heaven on earth. Today many long for a taste of this vision. This paradise is not a reality for lots of people. Yet for many of us it is a reality. We live in peace with relative abundance. We have both the means and the ability to help others experience more of a new Jerusalem. Whether that involves generously sharing our blessings and talents or guiding them to a faith that brings hope and encouragement in this life, as followers of Jesus we too have our marching orders. Jesus was clear in his call to go to the poor and blind and lonely and lost and broken. The gospel imperative to feed and visit and care for and to teach others about Jesus is clear. May we each joyfully and willingly accept the call of Jesus Christ to be his hands and feet, his light and love in the world.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you first for the many who serve and have served our nation. Bless them and their families, O God. Guide and encourage me to serve you well, bringing your love and hope to all who need it today. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Hope in Babylon

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

Verse 7: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… pray for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”.

The leaders, the craftsmen, those will skills are carried off into exile. Through Jeremiah the Lord God sends them a message of hope. Within this message is an unspoken truth: the exile will be long. This is not an exile that can be endured for just a few years and that will suddenly end, allowing life as they had known it to resume. Life as they had known it will cease to exist for an extended period.

Most of us can relate to what the exiles must have been feeling. In times of loss or unexpected change we too have felt out of sync and out of place, out of control and out of our ability to cope. There must have been a sense of hopelessness and despair hanging over the people. Into the exiles’ situation God gives direction and purpose. Instead of hunkering down and angrily riding out this period, God tells them to buy instead of renting, to intermingle and to intermarry instead of living in isolation. God tells them to find jobs and to start businesses. God says, through Jeremiah, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… pray for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”. In this place of exile God tells the people that they will thrive and experience blessing. In the midst of what must have felt like a horrible situation God reminds them that it will not only be okay, but it will be good because even in Babylon God is in control.

This leads me to wonder where there is hope and maybe even new life in my Babylon. How or where do you feel exile? As we ponder this thought, events or people or situations come to mind. These thoughts can cause us to lose hope or to feel a heavy weight upon us. Or… we can remember that God is in control and we can seek to trust in God alone and maybe, just maybe, to thrive in our Babylon.

Jesus himself invites us to lay down our burdens and to trust in him, promising us that he is “gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). In Babylon, God is there and in control. Turn to the Lord, our hope and our deliverer.

Prayer: Providing God, you are the rock in the storm, the sure foundation in this life, my only hope in the life to come. In the tempest, be with me. In the valley, carry me. Shine your face upon me and be gracious to me. Amen.


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Up from the Foundation

Reading: Psalm 137: 5-9

Verse 5: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”.

In the short-term of life it seems like things never change. The context of our Psalm today is the period of exile that followed the fall of Jerusalem. The people of Israel have been in Babylon for what feels like forever. It feels like their situation will never change. Deep within they long for their past. But at this moment they are stuck in Babylon.

In the long-term of life it often feels like things are always changing. Kings come and go, foreign powers rise and fall, there are times of freedom and times of captivity. Humans in general do not like change. The routines that we fall into in life feel like “forever” after a while. Our faith is one of these routines. In exile, the people of Israel cling to the songs and stories of faith. The telling and retelling of their oral traditions and the singing of their sacred songs connects them both to God and to the past that they long for. The deep desire to always remember is captured in verse five, where we read, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”. If one forgets the most important thing – God – then all else is lost.

Our faith exists and thrives in between the past and the future, between the constant and the change. The Bible and the practices and traditions that we derive from it keep us connected to God and to Jesus. They remind us of who we are as Christians and as communities of faith. Yet our faith also looks forward. One way we look forward is our trust in the future promises – to one day enter heaven and to one day see all things made new as Jesus Christ returns. The other way we look forward in our faith is the idea of journey. Our faith today is not what it was five years ago. We seek to journey forward, ever becoming more and more like Jesus.

The Bible, the traditions, the practices – these are the solid foundations of our faith. The desire to grow to be more like Jesus – this is the building up from that foundation. We are blessed by both. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for being who and what you are: unchanging love and mercy and grace. Thank you for showing us all these things lived out in your son, Jesus Christ. Keep me connected to both. Amen.