pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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New Life Blooms

Reading: Isaiah 35: 1-10

Verse 10: “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away”.

In my Bible today’s chapter is titled “Joy of the Redeemed”. The first two lines speaks of redeeming creation – new life blooms in the desert. The next two lines speak of redeeming God’s people. God will strengthen the feeble and the fearful. Both of these stanzas are about God’s desire and efforts to bring new life and wholeness to all of creation. For a nation laid waste and a people feeling that all was lost, these words would be full of meaning.

In verse five and the first part of six, Isaiah gets more personal with those most in need of healing and wholeness. These infirmities would keep these folks outside of true community, so their isolation would feel even greater and their vulnerability would be increased. Isaiah tells them that the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the mute will also be restored. These physical healings will lead to emotional and spiritual restoration too. Even today this is the order we most often experience. Physical needs must be met first. It is true in our schools, in our churches, in our shelters…

Isaiah continues in verse six and into seven with the physical restoration of the created world. But like the crocus blooming in the desert, these words can be read figuratively as well. Water represents new life in the faith of the people. The spring is their renewed faith bubbling up. In the haunts where evil once lay, new growth will come. Into a dry and weary people God will bring forth new life and hope.

These words of hope and promise still apply to God’s people, to our lives and our times as well. In those seasons where grief or trial or testing make our faith and life feel dry, when we are weary of the hard road we’ve been trudging, we too can recall that God still reigns, that God still desires good for us, that our redeemer lives. With God’s presence and surrounded by our faith communities, we can step forward and walk where only the redeemed and restored walk. We walk forward, uplifted on our earthly journey, one eye on our imperishable inheritance. With gladness and joy overtaking us, with sorrow and sighing falling away, we bear witness to our faith in this life and in the new life to come. We know the joy of the redeemed. May we walk in it all of our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, it is good to remember my place in your family. You have claimed me since before I was born. I confess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I know your joy. I live in your strength. I eagerly await the crown of life. You are my God. I am so thankful. Amen.


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Each a Beloved Child

Reading: Luke 16: 19-31

Verse 29: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”.

In our passage today Lazarus is a person in need. He is a person in need of food and medical care. These are his immediate physical needs. If we are willing to go to certain places and to engage certain folks, we can find people like Lazarus – people with basic needs. Food, shelter, clothing, medical care – people in our land of plenty lack many of these basics. The rich man lived in luxury. In ths life, he never once thought about Lazarus and his needs.

Lazarus also had emotional needs. To be ignored, to be passed by every day, creates a sense of isolation. To know others are avoiding you, averting their eyes to not even make eye contact, negatively impacts one’s self-image. It is hurtful and harmful to have one’s need for companionship, compassion, and conversation to go unmet. Lazarus was a man in need of relationship. We all need to belong.

For many years I was like the rich man. I tried to avoid and ignore those struggling with poverty and homelessness. I’d move to try and walk on the other side of the street. I’d look the other way if I couldn’t avoid the person. I allowed a gap to exist between myself and those who were not like me. In terms of sharing my faith, I thought, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”. They can read the Bible. They can come to church if they want to know about Jesus. How wrong I was.

Then one day I met Dee and Joel. Soon I met Pat and Rob and Georgia and… I got to know a few who were like Lazarus – people who were like me in so many ways. They all had a story to tell. They all had moms and dads and many had children. We had so much in common. Most of all, I learned that they too were each a beloved child of God. We became friends. It was from this place that not only physical and emotional needs could be addressed, but spiritual needs as well. Once we were friends, Moses and the prophets and Jesus could become part of the conversation.

Those living without Jesus don’t have to end up like the rich man. They can, but they don’t have to. May we each be willing to step across those barriers, real and imagined, to engage our fellow children of God, sharing our hope and Jesus’ love with them.

Prayer: God, thank you for continuing to work on me. Thank you for opening my eyes and my heart to those is need. Continue to lead and guide me to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to speak your word, to meet needs as I can, to be a light shining in the world. 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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Humble and Obedient

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verse 8: “He humbled Himself and became obedient even to death”.

Jesus became humble. Jesus was obedient. Those are two hard words to live out in today’s culture. For Jesus, these were ways that He demonstrated His love for God. When one gets right down to it, faith and the Bible are all about loving God and loving neighbor. As Jesus said in Matthew 22:40, “All the Law and prophets hang on these two commandments”. If we truly love God and love neighbor then we are honoring God.

In order to do this, one really does have to be humble and obedient. Humility leads us to think less of us and more of the other. Humility calls us to consider the needs of the other before we consider our own needs. Humility leads us to look at all people and to see them as people of worth. In all these things Jesus is our example. Obedience means we don’t just think this “love God, love neighbor” thing sounds nice and feels good, but we really live it out. We actually do for the other to meet their needs. We actually treat all people as worthy and as a fellow child of God. We actually are committed to our relationship with God and it is revealed in our daily spiritual disciplines. We actually practice generously giving ourselves and our “things” away.

Our human nature cautions us about giving too much. The world tells us self is #1. Yet what we come to learn is what Jesus learned. One cannot give too much of oneself away. You see, God refills us over and over. Not once have I given time or resources or anything to another in need and regretted it. Not once have I cared for another’s need and wished I hadn’t.

I often go on mission trips. Good work is done. The other always benefits. The house has a new roof, the sanctuary is more beautiful, the play area has shade over the sandbox. All are wonderful things. But the joy of doing for others, the knowledge of improving someone’s life, the feeling of sacrificing for the other – these are God at work filling us up.

Jesus came on a mission trip. He came to show us what love looked like when fully lived out. He was humble. He was obedient. In the end, as His mission concluded, Jesus Christ demonstrated love, obedience, and humility to the fullest. He went to the cross. There He emptied Himself one last time. And then God filled Him up. God exalted Him, raising Him up to heaven, making Jesus Lord of all. At this name, we bow. At this name, we declare Jesus is Lord!

Prayer: Lord of all, thank you for the example you set. Daily may I honor you as I seek to emulate your love of God and your love of neighbor. May it be so. Amen.


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Perceive

Reading: Isaiah 43: 19b-21

Verse 19: “Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”.

Thirst comes in many forms. It can be physical at times. After a long hike on a hot day that cool drink of water can taste so good. It can be emotional at times. When I have been away at school or on a mission trip or at an event over a long weekend, it feels so good to see and hug my family once again. When a good friend returns to your life, it is refreshing and renewing too.

The thirst can also be spiritual. This is the thirst that Isaiah writes about. Israel’s unfaithfulness has drawn them away from God. Our sin does the same to us. Because of their behaviors and choices, they cannot drink deeply of their faith. Exile has deepened the thirst and made it feel more profound. Through Isaiah, God says, “Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”. God is starting the renewal process. God asks, can’t you see it? God is beginning to pour back into a people starting to seek God again. The exiles feel like they are in a dry and weary place, especially spiritually. Even though they may not see it yet, God is preparing to bring them back to the Promised Land. God is at work in the happenings of the world to orchestrate their return to their homeland. God is bringing streams of hope and restoration to “the people I formed for myself”.

God seeks to do the same in our lives. God is always at work seeking to draw us closer, to deepen our faith. When we wander, the Holy Spirit convicts us and leads us back into right relationship. When we feel a bit disconnected, God brings us a spark through the Word or sends a brother or sister in Christ to us with the presence or words of encouragement or accountability that we need at that moment. God is ever at work in our lives. Sometimes the question is the same for us: do you not perceive it?

We perceive it best when we engage with God and our faith. God wants to fill us up, to be our all in all. God wants us to drink deeply of our relationship with and connection to Himself. We too are His chosen people. The promise is that if we draw near to God, God will draw near to us. Each day may we engage in our faith, seeking the Lord. In doing so we will find God is very present and we can then proclaim our praises. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, this day may I sense you all around me and in me. As I seek you, help me to grow closer and deeper in my faith. In all I say and do and think, may I proclaim your praises. Amen.


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Choose to Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a 40-day journey that focuses on self-reflection, fasting, and prayer. The 40 days comes from Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. During Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He focused on these three practices. For Him it was a season of preparation to begin His ministry. Lent is a season of preparation for us. During Lent, the 40 days do not include Sundays – they are holy days set aside for worship. At the end if Lent we arrive on April 21 at Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 58, our passage for today, focuses on fasting and the effect that it should have. To be honest, fasting has become a little-practiced spiritual discipline. Traditionally fasting was a practice that led to prayer, study, and self-reflection. It was also practiced at critical decision points. Esther’s fast in chapter 14, verses 15 and 16, comes to mind. In general terms, abstaining from food should lead one closer to God. The meal time and the periods of hunger would be spent in study and prayer and reflection, drawing one closer to God. The physical hunger reminds one of our spiritual hunger for God. During Lent, some practice a fast and focus on self-reflection, introspection, confession, and repentance. Today many churches will use Psalm 51:10 to begin Lent as ashes are placed on foreheads. It reads, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Today many people chose to fast from an item or habit. People give up chocolate or pop or TV or social media. When the desire for this arises, it leads one to prayer, study, and self-reflection. Others choose to add something during Lent – a Bible study or a daily devotional or guided prayer. The goal is the same: to draw closer to God through self-reflection and repentance. Whatever fast you choose, this remains the goal. Fasting should lead to a positive change of heart and soul. This is what Isaiah is talking about.

Verse 6 opens with this line: “Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen…”. Fasting creates the heart of God in us – a heart filled with compassion for others. A more Christ-like heart leads us to speak up against injustice and for the oppressed and to share our food and shelter and clothing with those in need. It does not allow us to turn away from our brothers and sisters in the world. This is the impact of fasting that is pleasing to God. It leads to a pure heart that loves without conditions. It leads to a steadfast heart that walks out Jesus’ love every day with every person without limits.

Fasting connects us to God. It changes us and makes us more like Him. Then our “light will break forth like the dawn” and “you will call and the Lord will answer”. When we cry out, God will say, “Here I am”. This Lenten season, may we choose to fast, to come closer to the heart of God, to better know and serve our fellow travelers in the world.

Prayer: Lord, in this holy season, may my heart focus in on you and on the changes you seek to make within me. May my fast bring me closer to you and to those I meet in the world. Amen.


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Jesus’ Healing Touch

Reading: Luke 6: 17-19

Verse 19: “All tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all”.

When I read the verse above, I first think that maybe Jesus was in a level space right next to the biggest hospital in the region. “All” came to touch Jesus. It is not four friends bringing a lame man on a his mat so that Jesus can heal the man. It is “all” people who seek Jesus’ touch so that they can be healed. But what if people are not just seeking physical healing?

What if the majority of the “all” are seeking Jesus for spiritual and/or emotional healing? Why then, they are just like us today. When I consider all the people I know today, most of them are healthy physically. Maybe a little high cholesterol here or a cold there, but otherwise pretty healthy. When I turn my thoughts to our emotional and spiritual health, there is a whole different picture that comes to my mind. Then “all” is the correct word for who needs Jesus’ healing touch.

I, you, everyone we know is in need of healing from the sin in our lives. Sometimes they are sins that occur spontaneously – jealousy over another’s success or anger at an unintentional slight. Sometimes sins are more regular – battles with pride, ego, judging, lust – just to name a few. This alone includes at least 99.999% of us. All of us need the healing touch of Jesus to be cleansed of our sin. Many are also dealing with emotional issues from experiences in their past and/or situations in their current realities.

I would wager that most reading this are in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. If not, it is as simple as asking Jesus into your heart, finding a local church to worship and learn in, and committing to reading the Bible and following its ways. But for most of us, we have wandered our path to Jesus and have come to know and follow Him. We’ve humbled ourselves and admitted our need for Jesus’ healing touch.

One last “all” – all of us know someone (or many someones) who need Jesus’ healing touch today. May we be intentional about connecting them to the touch of the great Healer, Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, may I connect others to you. As I engage others and share Valentine’s cards, may I help folks to feel your love and healing power. Amen.