pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Isaiah 11: 1-5

In many places winter is settling in.  On the coldest of windy days, one just wants to hunker down inside with a good book and a cozy blanket.  In this way, one finds a little comfort and solace in a harsh world outside.  In today’s passage, Isaiah is offering a vision filled with words of hope and promise.  The people are in exile.  Their surroundings are secular, polytheistic, and oppressive.  To a degree, they have begun to ask God how long this season of exile will last.

Into this despair and a growing sense of abandonment, God uses Isaiah to speak a word of hope.  Isaiah speaks of a shoot that will come up.  Just like us looking for that first burst of green after a long winter, Isaiah tells of a time coming soon when hope and promise will rise up from the house of Jesse.  Isaiah goes on to describe this new King – He will reign with wisdom and understanding and power and knowledge.  To these Isaiah adds that the King will give wise counsel and will live with a fear of God.  And not only all of this, but the king will also stand for the needy and those dealing with injustice.  To a people living in oppressive exile, someone who reigns by righteousness and faithfulness would provide great hope and promise.

Many living today need to hear these words of hope and promise.  Many in our country and probably some in all of our communities need to find a little hope and promise.  Some in our congregations need to know hope and promise.  Hope and promise abound in this passage from Isaiah.  A king who loves and cares for the needy and oppressed, one who rules with justice and righteousness – this is a king many need.  This King comes to us again this year in a manger, soon to be celebrated in all of our churches.  In this season where we prepare to welcome again the baby Jesus, may we also share the King of Kings, the King of justice and righteousness with a world so in need.  May we each share the King’s hope and promise this day.

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Speaking, Shining

Reading: Philemon 1-21

In this short letter Paul is practicing what Jesus taught.  Paul is standing up for one of the least.  Paul is reaching out to Philemon, a good friend and fellow Christian, and asking him to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a fellow brother in Christ.  To help Philemon’s decision Paul offers to pay for whatever is has cost Philemon while Onesimus has been ‘away’.  Paul is truly living out his faith in no only speaking up for a slave but also by being willing to give sacrificially for him as well.

While we do not live in a time when there are actual slaves, we do have plenty of people who are marginalized and who are trapped by their situation or conditions.  We do live in a culture that excludes and leaves some on the outside looking in.  We do live in an economy where many are used and exploited.  So, no, we do not have slaves, but there are many without voice or power.  As Christians, we are called to “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and to break every yoke”.  Isaiah 58 goes on to call us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the wanderer.

Paul was able to speak for Onesimus because he knew him.  In our daily lives our paths do not regularly cross the paths of the marginalized, the hungry, the naked.  To speak and act for them we must go to where they are and seek to know them.  It is our call to love and care for the least and the lost.  Isaiah 58 reads, “then your light will break forth like the dawn, … your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard”.  This day may we seek places and ways for our light to break forth, bringing God’s glory and live to all people.


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Led Back

Isaiah opens with some tough words.  The prophet’s job, after all, is to call Israel back to God.  In verse ten Isaiah calls the Israelites Sodom and Gomorrah.  These two cities were famous for their wild and sinful lifestyle, typified by sexual immorality and idol worship.  No good Israelite would ever go to these places!  So Isaiah opens by telling the people of Israel that they are now just as bad as two of the most evil-filled places ever.  It is definitely a way to get their attention.

Isaiah then goes on to reveal how they clothe who they really are on going through the religious motions.  The people of Israel are still offering sacrifices at the temple and are still reciting their daily prayers.  The people do offer sacrifices but return at once to their sins.  So God rejects their hollow prayers too because their “hands are covered in blood”.  The people’s insides are still full of sin and evil.  Their empty religion is trying to mask this.

Today, are we still living this way?  Do we sometimes act like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah?  Do we sometimes practice a fake or hollow religion?  Do we sometimes fall into sin?  I am afraid the answer to all of these questions is at times ‘yes’.

Sin is and always has been one of the realities of human life.  We are imperfect therefore we sin.  At times we go to church or a Bible study and our mind is consumed by something from work or from home.  We practice fake religion in these times.  We are there but we are not there.  Isaiah offers us a better option.

Isaiah calls us to seek justice, to encourage the oppressed, to defend the first fatherless, to plead the case of the widow.  He advises us to be a servant to others.  By doing the things God calls us to do we will be led back to God and to God’s ways.  This day may we seek to be in service to God, through loving the least and the lost, the poor and the oppressed.


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As God Loves

Reading: Psalm 146

The psalmist advises us to put our trust in God alone.  God alone is worthy of our praise and adoration.  He alone will the psalmist worship all the days of his or her life.  We are invited to join in with our praise all the days of our lives as well.

The psalmist also warns us about trusting in earthly kings and rulers.  It is pointed out that they cannot save and that they too will one day die and return to the ground.  It is a bit grim but knowing the context of the Psalm helps.  The recent kings were not worshippers of God and led the people astray.  The result has been the very recent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  Those of worth were hauled off to exile in Babylon.  Our reality today is that here and all around the world there are good rulers and there are not so good rulers.  There are a few Christian rulers, but in general are the exception.

Perhaps the destruction and exile has something to do with the focus on the hungry, oppressed, imprisoned, blind, orphaned, and widowed.  All who had value were hauled off to exile.  Those left behind certainly needed God’s care and attention.  It was a tough, fend for yourself kind of time.

Today we have a population in all of our communities who in essence have been left behind or left out.  Our culture of me-first individualism and too busy lives have left many on the margins.  Many think the government or someone else should deal with those who are struggling, but here in the Psalm we are reminded that God really loves those on the edges.  If we truly love the Lord, we too will love those He loves.  In the opportunities He places before us today, may we love all as God loves all.


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Lenten Journey

Lent begins today!!  Lent is a season when we prepare ourselves for celebrating Easter, the day of Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin and death.  It is a season when we go to work so that we are ready to celebrate His victory.  Lent is a season when we look within more often.  We spend time in self-reflection to evaluate our faith.  In this process we repent of all that separates us from or keeps us from being closer to God.  We make sacrifices to draw closer to God.  Some fast to draw closer to God.  All of our practices in Lent must serve to draw us closer to God and to create in us that clean heart that will be acceptable in His sight.

The model we follow for Lent was established by Jesus.  At the beginning of His ministry, after being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness for a period of forty days.  In this time He fasted and prayed in order to prepare Himself for the testing that Satan would bring.  This period of prayer and fasting strengthened His faith and relationship with God so that He could withstand the temptations of the devil.  In our forty day journey to the cross, we too will be tempted.

In Isaiah 58 it speaks of fasting for the wrong reasons and lays out the correct reasons.  In Lent, each practice can be done for impure reasons.  All must be done to better connect to God and to prepare ourselves.  At the start of Lent we must examine our inner being to determine if there are things in our lives we need to repent of and let go.  In this period of self-reflection, sometimes we see that there is something we need to attend to more often as well.  Maybe this entails taking on a special Lenten devotional or prayer study.  Perhaps this means finding one more time to pray during each day.  Maybe it means fasting once a week during Lent.  Whether it is setting something aside or adding a new discipline, this sacrifice must draw us closer to God.

In Lent, as we go to work to draw closer to God, we must also draw closer to our fellow man.  It is an inevitable consequence of drawing closer to God.  As we grow in our love of God, our love of all He loves grows as well.  Isaiah 58 speaks much of loving those in need.  May our light too break forth as we seek to love those in need and to break the chains of oppression.  May we too be pleasing in His sight on our Lenten journeys.

Scripture reference: Isaiah 58: 1-12


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A Personal Connection

In His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus goes to the temple and teaches from the scroll containing the words of the prophet Isaiah.  Luke makes mention that many there are aware of and appreciative of Jesus’ teachings up to this point.  What He reads that day would be a well-known passage.  The ideas of bringing the good news to the poor, releasing captives, bringing sight to the blind, setting the oppressed free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor all were part of the Jewish mindset.  Heads would have been nodding their approval.  But then Jesus added one more thing.  He claimed to be the fulfillment of this passage.  He states that He is this Messiah.  He created discomfort and ruffled feathers.

Fast forward to now.  When one speaks of sharing the good news, of freeing people from whatever oppresses or holds them back, of giving spiritual sight to one who is blind, all of us nod our heads approvingly.  We too view helping others as worthy and as the calling of the church.  But sadly enough we have our “just hold on a minute” line.  It’s a wonderful idea to feed and care for the needy.  Could you just do it over there?  It is great to share the gospel with those who have not heard it.  But do they have to come and worship here at our church?  It is noble and godly to help people overcome addiction and sins in their life.  But does little Suzy have to see it played out in person?

Sorry, but yes, we need to minister to people in our churches.  Alas, we must sit beside those new to the faith, to love and mentor them, to help them connect to God.  Yes, it is messy.  Folks who struggle need help in the form of a personal connection.  We are to be Jesus’ hands and feet, touching their lives directly and walking side by side with those who are new to faith or who are struggling.  May we find a little discomfort, may our feathers get a little ruffled, and may we like it.

Scripture reference: Luke 4: 14-21