pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Ever Present

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-8

Verse Eight: “The grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of our God stands forever”.

The people Israel strayed from God and His ways, wandering off into idol worship and other sins.  The Babylonians invaded, destroyed the temple, and carried off the best and brightest people into exile.  It was a time of despair; a feeling of abandonment was prevalent.  At times we too stray away from God and find ourselves in sin, lost in the wilderness.  At other times, forces outside of ourselves seem to rise up and life crumbles around us.  In both cases, we feel alone and in a place of despair.  We too know what it can feel like to be out in the wilderness of life.

But because God is faithful, the time in the wilderness does not last forever.  Although it is sometimes necessary, God does not abandon us and leave us in the wilderness forever.  Because of His love and mercy, God seeks us out and calls us back.  Our passage today speaks of this: “Comfort, O comfort my people”.  God is saying that it is okay, that He is right there.  The prophet Isaiah goes on to remind them that a time is coming when a voice will call out in the desert and the paths will be made straight and level for the Lord.  The “glory of the Lord will be revealed”.  There is promise and hope even in our times in the wilderness.  Our God is faithful and true.

The voice of God encourages Isaiah to cry out on behalf of the people.  The Lord always wants to hear from His children.  Our passage goes on to remind us that the glory of man is like the grass of the fields or like the flowers – it flourishes or blooms today but then is gone.  It withers and fails.  But just as there is a temporal nature to our successes, so too is there a temporary nature to our failures.  Through the highs and the lows, God remains our loving and faithful God.  Isaiah reminds us of this, writing, “the word of our God stands forever”.  His words are love, hope, mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace, joy.

If we find ourselves in the wilderness today, may we cling to God’s words of hope, love, promise.  If we find ourselves in a good place today, may we rejoice in God’s words of mercy, peace, grace, forgiveness, and love.  God is our all in all.  He is our ever present help in the trial and our constant light in the joy.  Thanks be to God.

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Coming Soon

Reading: Mark 13: 24-31

Verse 28: “You know that it is near, right at the door”.

At first glance, today’s text seems odd for Advent, the season where we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  The sun being darkened, the stars falling, and the heavens quaking don’t quite have that Christmas vibe.  But if we dig a little deeper, the reading makes sense.  There are signs all around that the world is more ready than ever for what this passage speaks of.  Each year we can look back and think the world is more ready than ever for Jesus to return and make all things new.

If we dig down into the core of why Jesus came, we find our answer in the fullness of God’s love: for God so loved the world…  Because God looked down and saw His children living in darkness and sin, He sent Jesus.  We remember too that Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it.  God looked down upon a world dead in its sin and did something about it.  Today many people still live in darkness and the only true, lasting light remains Jesus.  As we await the return that today’s passage speaks of, we do so following our call to bring the light and love of Jesus to all people and to all nations.  This call is a great reason for us to celebrate the birth and life that brought hope and love to a world in great need.

We wait, though, in a tension.  Verse 28 speaks of this tension: “You know that it is near, right at the door”.  Just as the fig tree shows signs and calls people to anticipate summer, so too are we to live with the sense that Jesus is coming soon.  Soon is a good place to be.  When we live with a sense of Jesus coming soon, we live with a faith that is active and alive.  We live with a faith that matters today in the present.  We live with a faith that seeks to share the hope and love of Jesus with all we meet.  We live with a faith that is full of promise and expectation.  As we live out a “coming soon” faith, may we live so that others may sense that Jesus is right at the door of their hearts too, seeking to come in.


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Encourage One Another

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 13-18

Verse 17: “And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

When we think of the end times or of the end of our earthly life, many people experience fear and worry.  For many there is an unknown feeling that comes when we think of death.  When a loved one or good friend passes on, some left behind wonder where that person has gone to and some even wonder if death is just the end.  They grieve without hope.

In today’s passage, Paul reminds all believers of the hope and promise that is given to all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior.  It is a promise that we can live and trust into.  Paul begins by cautioning us not to think as the pagan world thinks, as those who have no hope.  Instead, Paul reminds us of the death and resurrection of Jesus that provides the way for all who die in Christ to gain eternal life.  We too will one day experience resurrection into the glory and wonder of heaven.  Paul tells the Thessalonians and us that this is true also for all who have already died in Christ.  Paul assures them and us that our loved ones will also rise in Christ.  In verse 17 he writes, “And so we will be with the Lord forever”.

Our passage today closes with these words: “Therefore, encourage one another with these words”.  Paul exhorts us to take these words of hope and promise and to be encouraging one another with them.  At times in our lives we need to remember and hear these words.  Maybe that is today.  We also know people who need to hear these words of hope and promise today.  With whom and how can we share these words of hope and promise today?  May we be open to the lead of the Holy Spirit as we seek to be Jesus’ light and love this day.


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Listen, Remember

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3a

Verse One: “He summoned the elders, leaders, judges, … “This is what the Lord says..”

Joshua gathers up the leaders and officials of the twelve tribes of Israel – all the men in charge of the people.  In this farewell chapter Joshua wants to make clear to them the correct path forward.  Just as it has been for Joshua and for Moses before him, so too must God remain at the center of the lives of these leaders and those they lead.  So Joshua does not begin with his own words of wisdom, but with, “This is what the Lord says…”

God begins by reminding them of the story of Abraham.  It is a story they all surely know well but it is important to return and recall the stories often.  The story begins with “long ago” and connects to one of the most important people in their common history.  As God mentions Abraham, his wife Sarah certainly also comes to mind.  Both heard God’s promise that even at 100 they would have a baby.  The covenant would then be given: Abraham will be the father of a great nation.  Both Abraham and Sarah heard and lived out God’s promise in the covenant.  For the elders, leaders, judges, … the message is clear – listen to God and live out His covenant.

There is also a second message in our passage.  God reminds the people that they have worshiped foreign gods.  God connects not doing so with the promise of a new land.  For Abraham it was Canaan; for them it is the Promised Land.  In this warning against worshiping foreign gods, those gathered would recall the story of the golden calf and its consequences.  They would also recall the commandments brought down the mountain by Moses that told them to have no other gods or idols.  This message is also clear – love the Lord your God and Him alone.

These are both good reminders for us as well.  We live into the new covenant established in Christ Jesus, clinging to its promises as we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  May it be so each and every day.


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Humble

Reading: Matthew 22: 11-12

Verse 12: Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Jesus has just finished “teaching” the Pharisees about how un-humble they are.  They love to be seen and heard, to be recognized and honored.  Elsewhere in Scripture we are told that they already have their reward.  Earthly accolades have no heavenly value.

Jesus tells them and us that there is a better way.  In verse 12 He says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.  He is speaking of here and there, of earth and heaven.  Those who have exalted themselves here will be humbled one day.  The Word speaks of the day when  one will be taken and one will be left behind.  The implication here for the Pharisees is that they will be humbled on that day.

The other side of Jesus’ advice applies to the disciples.  If you are a humble servant now, one day you will be exalted.  For the disciples and many others who would suffer for their faith, the ‘one day’ promise was powerful and encouraging.  For people like Paul and his fellow workers for the gospel, they had many experiences that humbled them.  They knew well the promise of one day being exalted.

Humility is sometimes in short supply today.  In a culture that values and espouses power and position and possessions, humility can be hard to find.  In our lives we occasionally have experiences that force humility upon us.  But too often we choose to blame others or to make excuses for our failure.  The other, more pressing, consideration has to do with our faith though.  The question we must wrestle with as Christian is this: if we do not experience humility in our faith journey, are we risking too little for Jesus Christ?  Are we playing it too safe?  Are we holding back from the Spirit’s lead?

Jesus tells us that we will be humbled when we share our faith, lead other to belief, or love the least and lost in His name.  When we step out in faith, when we risk much for the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is then that we become aware of His power and strength moving in and through us.  We come to see that it is Jesus that saves, moves, loves.  It has very little to do with us when we are truly humble servants.  May we all seek to be humbled today.


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Victory

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-17

Verse 16: Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.

Tonight is a “scary” night.  People of all ages dress up in fun costumes and go out to collect candy.  The reality is that the “trick” has largely left the “trick or treat” aspect of the night and it is largely about dressing up (which is fun) and collecting candy (which is yummy).  For the vast majority who will be going door to door, trunk to trunk, or table to table, Halloween is just a fun night.

Although the “darkness” of Halloween is largely gone, the world we live in still has plenty of darkness.  The world brings each person their share of hurt and pain in life.  It is part of the otherwise beautiful and loving world.  As Christians we can better face the forces of evil and the times of pain and suffering because we know the end of the story.  Today, in Revelation 7, we get a peak into the end of the story.  We see praise and worship around the throne.  We see those that have gone through the great tribulation – they have been redeemed and their robes are white as snow.  They join the elders and the angels in worshipping God and the Lamb.  It is a wonderful and beautiful image of the end of life as we know it here on earth.

Through the victory of Jesus Christ we know that “never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst”.  It will be a time of light and love as we dwell with God and the Lamb.  All will be amazing as we join the heavenly choir singing our praises to the Lord our God.  The Lamb will lead us by springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear.  This is the vision, the hope, the promise that we hold onto as we dwell in this time and place.  Thanks be to God for the victory won by Jesus Christ!


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All in All

Reading: Philippians 3: 10-14

Verse 12: I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

There is great power in today’s passage.  There is great hope.  There is great promise.  There is great encouragement.  Pail is fully rooted in Christ and in His love.  He has given his all for the gospel and is willing to suffer and even give his life if that will advance the gospel and bring glory to God.  Paul opens today with a clarion call for all believers: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection”.  Like Paul, we also want to know these two things.  We want to know Christ for this earthly life so that we can love and serve others as Jesus did.  We want to know the power of His resurrection for this life and the life to come.  In this life, the power of Jesus’ resurrection brings us victory over sin.  Jesus’ resurrection power defeats the guilt and shame and chains of sin so that we can be made holy and pure in this life.  It is a power we call on again and again.  Jesus’ resurrection power also looks to the future – His resurrection power enables us to defeat death and to live eternally with Jesus in heaven.

Knowing all of this is what allowed Paul to be sold out for Jesus and the gospel.  It is what allows us to have the faith and the courage to live as sold out, all in Christians.  If we believe in the power of Jesus Christ and His resurrection, we too can live as Paul did: willing to do anything and willing to face anything to advance the kingdom here on earth.  This is what Paul is talking about when he writes, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.  Christ took hold of Paul to give him a hope, a love, a promise, a future.  Paul did not take hold of all this and sit on it to keep ut for himself.  He gave his all and eventually his life so others would gain it too.

Paul concludes today with these words: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.  Hear these words – straining ahead, pressing on, the prize, called, in Christ Jesus.  Paul’s life reflected the fact that Jesus Christ was his all in all.  May our lives and faith reflect this as well, all for God’s glory and the building of His kingdom here on earth.