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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Produce Fruit

Reading: Matthew 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Many people were coming out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. It was your typical Sunday morning crowd this day in Matthew 3. Many came to hear John’s call to repentance and to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, symbolizing being made clean. Some came to support those making a choice to seek a new life. They had walked the narrow road since coming to see John themselves. Some came because they thought they should. Their minds were on a million other things and their hearts were even further from faith in God. But this day, some came to see the show. They would gather later, to ridicule it within the safety of their little circle.

This day the usual preaching and baptizing comes to a screeching halt as John yells out, “You brood of vipers”! I bet you could have heard a pin drop. He asks them who warned them to “flee from the coming wrath”? He is calling them out for coming to the river and then returning to their unrepentant lives later that afternoon. The Pharisees and Sadducees do not even think about stepping into the river. Why would they?

This would be like our communion stewards going to someone who remained in the pew instead of coming forward and being told, “No thanks. I’m good – haven’t sinned since I took communion last month”. We may be taken aback by such a thought, but there will be folks who move with the crowd, who take communion and just go through the motions. They will move through the line, they will take the bread and the juice, without ever searching their hearts, without ever seeking to repent of their sins. They will go through the motions planning on returning to life as it was.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. Live lives that look like you have repented of your sins. Live lives that look like you love God and neighbor more than you love yourself. Don’t just appear to love God and neighbor. Really love them in concrete and practical ways. Love God and neighbor in ways that make them feel loved by you.

John proclaims that one day Jesus will “gather his wheat into the barn”. Live lives worthy of being gathered into Jesus’ barn. Produce fruit that builds the kingdom of God both in your heart and in the hearts of others.

Prayer: Lord, show me today how to love you more and to love others more. Convict me when I fall short of what you call me to. Guide me by your Holy Spirit to be your love in the world today. 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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The Spirit of the Lord

Reading: Isaiah 11: 1-5

Verse 2: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…”

Isaiah 11 begins by connecting Jesse, King David’s father, to the “branch” that will spring up to bear fruit. Looking at this verse through the lens of Jesus, we read these words and connect them to Jesus. The lineage is one logical line of thinking that does connect Jesus to Jesse. But our passage today also describes the person of Jesus. In verses two through six we get a great description of the character and heart of the Messiah.

Verse two begins with “The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…”. Yes, God was clearly with Jesus. In fact, Jesus was God incarnate – God in the flesh. This verse continues to describe what the Spirit gave Jesus: wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and fear of the Lord. Looking through the gospels one can see these gifts sprinkled throughout Jesus’ life and ministry.

The Messiah will rule, but not in the militaristic way that the Jews longer for. Jesus was an altogether different king. He was not influenced by those in the halls of power. He did not judge by first impressions or by what others thought. Jesus was guided by the love of God. Consequently, Jesus cared for the needy with righteousness and brought justice to the poor. Jesus’ reign of love sought to bring all people into the family of God. There was not one person Jesus encountered that he did not try and draw into God’s love. Many rejected Jesus, but he turned no one away.

Our passage closes with two reminders. At the end of verse four we are reminded that Jesus will one day defeat evil and the wicked. His culmination of power will be with might and strength. But it will be clothed in righteousness and faithfulness. The belt and sash will guide his reign forevermore.

As we consider our call to be followers of Jesus, we must seek to be filled by the same Spirit. In our worship and in our study, do we seek to be filled with wisdom, understanding, knowledge…? Do qualities like righteousness, justice, and faithfulness clothe us and our words and actions? If we are to truly follow Jesus, we must live out what Jesus lived out. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me more and more with the qualities of Jesus and of you. Instill in me a sense of justice, a sense of righteousness. In faithfulness, fill me with a deep knowledge of you and your ways. Clothe me with Christ. Amen.


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Build the Kingdom

Reading: Isaiah 11: 6-10

Verse 10: “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the people; the nations will rally to him”.

Isaiah writes of a kingdom that seems hard to wrap our minds around. This vision of endless peace is difficult to contemplate in our day and age. Verses six through eight are filled with images that are very unlike the relationships that exist today. Wolves do not live with lambs; cows do not feed alongside bears. We shudder at the image of a child putting its hand into the den of poisonous snakes. What if this vision of harmony and peace were a metaphor for what God’s kingdom could look like today? What would this kind of world look like today?

We do catch a glimpse of it now and then. When the families of the children slain at school went and offered forgiveness and mercy to the shooter and his family, we saw a glimpse. When the concentration camp survivor hugged and offered grace to the camp guard, we caught a glimpse. It remains fully possible for the power of God to break in even in this day and age. That is part of what Advent is all about. As we live into and practice peace, hope, love, and joy we are drawn closer to the vision laid out in Isaiah 11. In verse ten we read, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the people; the nations will rally to him”. Right now we await this day. The kingdom described here has not yet been fulfilled. We live in the “not yet”. It is a time of building, a time of drawing nearer to its culmination.

The question for us is this: what role will we play? Will we be but observers? Or will we have an active role in the building of the kingdom? If we are to be builders we must actively engage those we see as wolves and lions and bears and vipers. If we want to build the kingdom of peace, hope, love, and joy, we must be examples of these things in the darkness of the world. What barriers must we cross? What risks must we take? Are we willing to step bravely forth with God’s peace, hope, love, and joy? May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, reveal to me the darkness into which you are calling me to bring light. Encourage me and fill me with your Spirit to go where you want to send me. May I be your peace, hope, love, and joy today. Amen.