pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Our Only Hope

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-7

Verse 1: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you”.

Isaiah writes to a people who have been defeated and the best have been led off into exile. They have seen their holy city destroyed and now they live in a foreign land. The people of Israel must feel like the darkness has closed in around them and they can see no light. Even God must feel distant – how else would they be where they are?

This is their frame of mind as Isaiah speaks these words: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you”. In one way, this would be like telling a 94 year old man who just lost his wife of seventy years, “Look up, you’ll find love again”. From their perspective, it does not sound possible. In the midst of such loss and the grief that accompanies it, finding hope in the darkness can be very difficult. So why would Isaiah try and bring hope?

Isaiah brings hope for the same reason you and I bring hope. For people ravaged and displaced by war, for folks unexpectedly visited by death, for families suddenly uprooted because of an unforeseen event, for the person who experiences loss of a job or something similar – for all of these and more – speaking a word of hope is where our faith response must begin. Immediate needs must often be met first, but in terms of faith, in those darkest of places, all else hinges upon hope.

Isaiah’s words remind the people that God is still with them. The promise is that light will again rise over the people. He encourages them to lift up their eyes and to look about. There are signs of God even in the dark. Isaiah calls them to envision the day when all return to Israel, to imagine the day when all peoples of the earth will come from afar. This is not some “what if” story. God will one day call all people to kneel before the throne. For the faithful, all things will be made new. We too cling to this promise. Whether we enter our rest individually or as part of the final renewal of all things, we hold fast to the promise of eternal life. This is our hope. It is the hope we have to share with those living in darkness. May our light shine!

Prayer: God of light, there is plenty of darkness all around. Many walk in this life without you and without hope. Help me to speak words of hope, bringing a glimpse of light into the darkness. Guide this light to lead others to the only hope in this life: you. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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Guide Our Feet

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 76: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him”.

As we recall from yesterday, God raised up a “horn of salvation” to redeem his people, offering them mercy and salvation. Jesus Christ is the one who will rescue them and enable them to live holy and righteous lives. Those who believe in Jesus will not fear because Jesus brings victory over our true enemies: sin and death. Starting in verse 76 we shift to the second half of Zechariah’s song. Here the prophesy becomes intimately personal.

Probably holding his newborn son aloft, Zechariah joyfully sings verses 76 through 79. He begins with “And you, my child…”. His own son will be a prophet of the Most High. His own son “will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him”. His own son will prepare people’s hearts and minds to be ready to accept Jesus as the Messiah. John’s role and ministry will be integral to the success of Jesus’ ministry. John will offer a baptism of forgiveness as he calls people to repent of their sins and to “make straight” their lives. All this in preparation for the coming Messiah. John will create fertile ground for Jesus.

In verse 79 we read that Jesus will “shine on those living in darkness”. Sometimes this will be painful. In our day and in our lives, the living Jesus continues to shine light into our darkness. Because he lives in us in spirit, Jesus continues to illuminate the dark corners of our hearts and the areas of sin that we try and keep hidden. There we are living in the “shadow of death”. If that is you, may you hear anew John the Baptist’s call: repent of your sins and seek Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. As Zechariah sang, Jesus still wants to “guide our feet into the path of peace”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for the gift of John the Baptist, he who reminds us today of our essential practice of repentance. Humble me today to honestly look within, to see where sin has taken root. Grant me the courage to die to that part of myself – to all the parts that are not pleasing to you. Then guide me, O great Jehovah, to walk the path of peace. Amen.


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Shine the Light

Reading: Psalm 149

Verse 1: “Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song”.

Psalm 149 is a song of praise. It comes to us in two parts. In the first five verses it is a song filled with singing and rejoicing and dancing and tambourines and harps. It calls for the exuberant worship of God. The psalmist reminds us that God delights in us and gives salvation to the humble. In turn, we rejoice and sing for joy over this gift. What wonderful praise!

Then we turn to verses six through nine. This section brings swords and vengeance and punishment and binding with shackles to our attention. It speaks of carrying out “the sentence written against them”. At first this seems like an odd form of praise. But in Hebrews 4:12 we read, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword”. And in Ephesians 6 Paul refers to “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. Living out our faith, we can praise God by using God’s word and truth to free people from sin and from the lies of the world. We can live out God’s justice and compassion by helping people caught up in oppression and abuse and injustice. We can share the good news of Jesus Christ with the poor and broken in spirit, binding up their earthly desires of the flesh and lifting their spirits to God.

When we shine the light of Christ into the dark places of people’s lives, the darkness flees and heaven rejoices. May it be so today.

Prayer: O Lord God, may it be so! May I shine the light into the darkness of the world, leaving only your light. Fill me with your Spirit and your word of truth today, King of Kings. May all of do and say be praise to you. Amen.


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Shining for All to See

Reading: Jeremiah 18: 6-11

Verse 11: “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions”.

In today’s reading from Jeremiah God widens the circle. The metaphor of the potter and the clay is expanded to the nation. The application extends to all nations and people groups. In verses seven through ten God outlines how this works. If a nation is doing evil it will be uprooted and torn down. But if it repents of its evil, God will relent. The reverse is also true. These verses imply that God is engaged not only in our personal spiritual lives but also in the public and corporate lives of our communities and of society.

Together people form a community. This happens at all levels. Our families and our churches are the base level and this is where our faith lives seem most evident. Our identity or our “collective life” comes from the sum of us. In a church, for example, if most of the people are friendly and welcoming, then the church will be friendly and welcoming. Jeremiah is extending our lives out further today. Jeremiah is implying that how we live out our lives of faith in our community, town, city, state, and/or nation affects the social and political realities of said groups.

As people of faith we can seek justice for all and can stand with those facing injustice. As people of faith we can seek to be positive contributors to the projects, events, and happenings in our localities. As people of faith we can care for and call others to care for the marginalized and victimized. As people of faith we can work for peace and reconciliation in our spheres of influence. As people of faith we can be strength and comfort and aide in the midst of loss, violence, and other tragedies. As people of faith we can speak words of love and understanding instead of words of hate and division.

Through Jeremiah God warns Israel and, by extension, all nations. In the last verse of our passage today we read, “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions”. No, as people of faith we cannot be a part of the evil or injustice or abuse or… But, yes, we are also called to live out an active and engaging faith. We are called to let our light shine for all to see. In doing so we strength not only our own faith, our families, and our churches, but our communities as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be light and love outside the walls of my home and my church. Lead me to shine your love and light out into my neighborhood, my community, and beyond. Amen.


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Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.


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A Beautiful View

Reading: Psalm 67

Verse 5: “May the people praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you”.

The Psalm opens with a request that the people experience God’s grace and blessing, that God’s face shines upon them. All are good things and things we hope for too. A little grace, a little blessing, and a little shining are always good, right? Yes, but we cannot miss the second half of the opening verse. It is the ‘why’ of why the psalmist desires these things for the people. It is so God’s ways may be made known and so that all nations may know the salvation of the Lord.

When we truly know and experience God’s grace in our lives, it becomes something we want to share with others. It is a gift so beautiful that we should want to share it with others and should seek to live out in our lives. Grace is an unmerited and undeserved outpouring of love and forgiveness that naturally leads us to want others to experience grace. We also experience God’s blessings in our lives. Blessings come in many forms. They are not always all about material things. For example, we can be blessed by our relationships with God and others, finding joy and love and peace and hope and community… Blessings are like grace – a gift that God gives to us so that we can share with others. We share grace and blessing so that others may know both God’s ways and the salvation that comes through faith in Christ alone.

The psalmist offers this prayer today not just for Israel but for all nations. The psalmist has a big view of God. It is a beautiful view. In verse 5 we read these words: “May the people praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you”. In order to praise, one must first know. This day may we each make God known to those we encounter, helping the lost one step closer to being found. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, help me to love well today. Give me eyes to see all as your child, dearly beloved by you and by me. Amen.