pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love, Hope

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-16

Verse 14: “The Lord himself will give you a sign”.

The northern kingdom of Israel has fallen to the Assyrians. The tide is rising against Judah. King Ahaz is trying to do all he can to survive the coming assault. He is doing all HE can. So God speaks to him through the prophet Isaiah, encouraging him to ask for a sign. A sign might guide him, it might give him some direction. Ahaz refuses to put the Lord to the test. He knows that he has been relying on himself; he has not been fully faithful to God and is therefore hesitant to go to God now.

Instead of receiving harsh words or punishment for his lack of faith and trust, Ahaz hears some words of hope. Isaiah tells him, “The Lord himself will give you a sign”. Even though you will not ask – yes, a little more disobedience – God will still speak. Overall the message is not good. Assyria is coming like a razor to cut them down. Briars and thorns will replace the vines, the farmlands will not produce crops. But there, in the midst of all this, we find hope. Ahaz and Judah find hope. The sign is a “virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel”. Why would God offer such a promise, such a hope to a king and kingdom about to be destroyed?

I believe hope and love go hand in hand. Although the nation of Judah awaits punishment, God still loves them. Even though he must punish, God loves his children without limit. The people of Judah and the people of Israel already living in defeat will hear these words and will be reminded of God’s love for them. This will bring them hope.

Many hundreds of years later these words would be read through the Christian lens. Christians connect these words to Jesus, he who took on flesh to be Immanuel – God with us. Like these words to Ahaz and Judah, Jesus brought hope, love, and new promises. Christ offers restoration and healing to a broken and hurting world. As we await the birth and long for his return, we have hope. In love we pray, come, Lord Jesus, come.

Prayer: Father of love, thank you for the greatest gift ever – Jesus Christ. In him we find you. In you we find love, hope, peace, joy, salvation, and so much more. You are an awesome God! May all the praise and glory and honor be yours, both now and forevermore. Amen.


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Roaring Lion

Reading: Hosea 11: 8-11

Verse 8: “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused”.

Verse eight opens with a loving parent asking how they can even think about giving up on their children. God asks how he can hand them over to eternal condemnation. Admah and Zeboiim are two cities that were also wiped from the face of the earth when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. The destruction of these cities was complete and it was final. God, as a loving parent, wonders how he can treat his children, his chosen people, like this. The good news is that God cannot.

In verse eight we also read, “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused”. God’s strong love overrides the hurt and rejection and disappointment. God’s love has taken over. Yes, punishment is necessary at times. Some behavior merits a consequence. This is true for Israel. Yet through Hosea these rebellious and defiant children are reminded that because of God’s great love and mercy, God’s heart is still full of compassion for his beloved children.

There are and there will be times when I hurt my relationship with God, when I reject God’s will and live for myself. Like any parent would be, I am sure God is hurt and feels disappointed with me. I am also equally sure that my God will never forget or abandon me. God is always at work to bring me to a place of conviction that leads to confession that leads to repentance. At that point, God’s mercy and love and grace restores and redeems me. Sometimes I too suffer the consequences of turning away and sometimes I am punished for my sins. At times God, my loving parent, deems these things necessary. They are part of the refining and reshaping of my faith. These things lead to growth in my faith.

In verse ten we read, “They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion”. When I have been brought back into a right relationship with God, I most clearly see the depth of God’s love for me. In those experiences, God’s love and mercy and compassion roar like a lion. The power draws me in. May you hear God roar like a lion today.

Prayer: Powerful God, you are such an amazing and awesome God. In my weakness and in my failures I see the depth of your love. It would be so much easier for you to just let me go, but you don’t ever do that. Thank you so much. Amen.


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Love in Word and Deed

Reading: Luke 6: 27-31

Verses 27-28: “Love your enemies, do good… bless… pray for those who mistreat you”.

The world into which Jesus speaks is a world ruled by the Roman Empire. There is peace but it is peace bought with the sword and violence. For Jesus’ audience, they would be living a controlled, limited life. The Romans controlled them, allowing a little religious freedom, but little else. Heavy taxation was the main burden. Individuals who refused to follow the rules or who rebelled or spoke out were quickly made an example of. Crucifixion was the Roman’s choice for dealing with dissenters – it was painful and gruesome and it was a visible punishment and deterrent. Jesus Himself would suffer this death. Even so, Jesus was all about love.

Today’s passage speaks into this environment. To start, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good… bless… pray for those who mistreat you”. The Romans would have come quickly to mind, followed by others who have aligned themselves with those in authority for personal gain. To think of such as these and to think of loving, blessing, and praying for them would have seemed quite radical. It was. Jesus’ kingdom of love is not of this world. It does not make sense to the people of the world and at times it is very hard for His followers to live out.

When we are able to love or bless or pray for those who hate us, it can make a big impact both on us and on them. It changes the dynamics of the relationship and how we see each other. Love has a great deal of power.

To put that love into action can be even more powerful. This is what Jesus is talking about in verses 29 and 30 – giving, giving, giving. Love must be both words and actions. It is easy to say we love our enemies. It is the next level to actually practice it.

Our passage today closes with a version of the golden rule: “do to others as you would have them do to you”. Easy to practice with our family or friends (most of the time), but harder to do with the one who just abused or mistreated or took advantage of you. Tomorrow we dive into this idea more. For today, may we love all with both our words and our deeds.

Prayer: Lord, may I love all the same, no matter who I cross paths with today. Whether my best friend or my wife or someone I do not get along with, help me to love all with your love today. Amen.


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Present and in Control

Reading: Isaiah 40: 21-31

Verse 26: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these?”

The prophet Isaiah writes and speaks to a people who are living in exile. When the people were disobedient to God the Babylonians conquered them. The Israelites were then taken off into captivity. They understood the consequences of their disobedience to be the exile. But as time wears on and exile continues, they begin to feel as if punishment has turned to abandonment. Through Isaiah, God wants to remind the people that He is still present and is still in control.

In verse 26 Isaiah tells the people, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these”? He is saying to not remain downcast but to look up to God instead. Focus not on these feelings of abandonment but look up and marvel at the power and might of God revealed in the heavens. Remember that God is the creator and sustainer and that God is fully in control. At times we too can get bogged down or run over by life. Every now and then we too need to take a moment to recognize and connect to the God of all creation.

Isaiah then draws the people back to the essentials of their faith as he asks them, “Do you not know? Have you not heard”? Isaiah asks them to remember how God has always been their God both personally and corporately. He is saying, ‘don’t you remember?’ all the ways we have known and experienced God throughout our history. Isaiah then reminds the people that “the Lord is the everlasting God”. God has been, is, and always will be. As a word of encouragement, Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak”. The people long in exile feel weary and weak. Yes, they need strength and power from God.

Isaiah will go on to inform the people that because God is in control, that the exile is almost over. Although they cannot see the end, Isaiah tells them that the ends nears. As they wait, Isaiah reminds them to keep their hope and trust rooted in God. This promise of God’s faithfulness remains true for us as well. In those times or seasons that feel a bit like exile, we too must hold firmly to our faith, knowing that God was, is, and always will be present and in control. He holds us in His hands.


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God on Display

Reading: John 9: 1-23

Verse 11: So I went and washed, and then I could see.

Today’s story makes us think.  It is a story that wrestles with the ‘why’ questions.  Why does the world work the way it does?  Why does God?  God created us with intelligence and curiosity.  We want to know how and why things work.  We want to understand things.  Life and death and what happens in between have long been mysteries that mankind has sought to explain, understand, …  Yes, we certainly know much more than we did even twenty years ago.  Yet there is still much we cannot explain or understand or begin to answer the ‘why’ questions that we have.

The cycle often repeated in the Old Testament is: following God, becoming disobedient, receiving punishment, returning to God.  So when the people considered why someone was born blind or deaf or why someone had leprosy, the natural conclusion was that it must have been punishment for something.  It was a short leap from stories such as Miriam’s disease for disobedience to applying this logic to all cases of affliction.  What caused this affliction?  Sin!  So when the man was born blind, all assumed someone in the family had sinned and this man’s blindness was the eventual consequence.

Today we know that this is not the case.  But we are still often left with the ‘why’ questions.  Why did he die so young?  Why did my spouse leave me?  Why did my position have to be the job that was eliminated?  All of these types of questions can eventually lead to the bigger one: why did God…?  It is a difficult question.  It is a question that may not be answered for years.  It is a question that is sometimes never answered.

God created our world and set it in motion.  God created the weather systems, for example.  The system was designed and set into motion.  We experience hot and cold, snow and rain, sun and clouds.  No one would argue that God individually and personally forms each of the zillions of rain drops that fall each day.  Our world operated much the same way.  Our bodies grow and they decay.  We get colds and the flu.  We lose our site or our hearing.  We get cancer and Alzheimer’s.  People make decisions that affect others – sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.  The lightning strikes and causes a forest fire.  Much we cannot explain.

But in and through it all, God seeks to be present.  In and through it all we can trust God, we can cling to Him, we can walk with Him.  We know that God will give us just what we need for the day or situation at hand.

The blind man needed to see.  He believed what Jesus said and he received what he needed.  Through him, the glory of God was displayed.  No, he didn’t really know ‘why’ Jesus touched him and he couldn’t explain ‘why’ he could now see, but He did and  he could.  When we trust, when we have faith, when we are faithful, God is true.  Then God will be displayed in our lives as well.  May it be so.