pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A New Thing Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-11

Verse 3: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live”.

In Holy Week today is a day of waiting. Jesus has been crucified and laid in the grave. This day feels like a day of grief, like a day of defeat. For the followers of Jesus, today must have felt like what most days felt like for the exiles in Babylon. These words of Isaiah are good words for Holy Saturday. I hope the disciples and followers of Jesus recalled or read these words on that difficult day long ago.

Through Isaiah, God calls “all who are thirsty” and then invites those without to come and eat. This is the table of fellowship – a place where all are welcome, a place where we share what we have to offer as a means of caring for the other. Isaiah issues God’s invitation to “eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare”. It is an invitation to blessed community, to a place of belonging. For those in exile, for those struggling through this day in the gospel stories, this is a welcome invitation.

Once connected to this community, the invitation is the extended: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live”. God’s words bring life, reviving the soul and the spirit. Reminding us of the everlasting covenant established by Jesus Christ, we again hear the promise that God will draw all people to him, to the Christ. In verse six Isaiah reminds us of our role. Here he writes, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near”. This day, this sacred day, may we seek the Lord. May we seek his voice, for we too have this promise: “My word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire”.

God desires connection, relationship, fellowship with you and with me. God desires community – it is there that we find strength, joy, love, support, encouragement. It is there that we find life. All seems lost to the grave on this day of grief. Yet a new thing is coming. Tomorrow the Son rises.

Prayer: Lord God, in your great love you always seek to draw us in, to deepen our relationship with you. On this grey day, thank you for the reminder that all things work according to your purposes. Amen.


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Is God the Focus?

Reading: 1st Corinthians 7: 29-31

Verses 29 and 31: “…the time is short… For this world in its present form is passing away”.

Paul writes today of the constant tension that Christians have and always will live in. Our passage today begins with “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short”. Here Paul is first thinking in terms of Jesus’ return. The first believers believed that his return was imminent. Paul is also thinking of our time here on earth. Our lives, even if we live into our eighties or nineties, is but a mist compared to eternity. Under both of these arguments, Paul is calling the Corinthians and all believers to really focus in on what matters most during our lives so that our eternity is spent in heaven with God.

In the body of this passage Paul tells his readers not to focus on family or on happiness or mourning or on the things we own. He warns us not to become too “engrossed” with the things of this world – status, wealth, titles, popularity… As folks who live in this day and age, we know the lures of this world quite well. Society and culture elevates these very things that Paul warns about as the meaning and purpose of life. Society and culture seek to tie our value and our identity and our “success” to what we own and to the power we have because of our title or position or wealth. According to Paul, all of these things are not to be our focus. He sums up our passage and his argument with these words: “For this world in its present form is passing away”. One day all of this will be no more. One day a new heaven and earth will be the reality. My house, my car, my bank account, my job, my titles, my accomplishments – all will be no more. And if I die before Jesus returns, I will not keep or take any of these things with me. They do not matter.

Paul reminds us today to focus on God as our first love, as our main connection, as the focal point in this life. The wisdom of the ages has taught us that where we spend our time and our money truly reveals what is most important to us. As you consider your allocation of these resources, do they reveal God as your focus? Is God your priority?

Prayer: Lord God, while I begin my day in time with you and while I “work” at a church, too often I am concerned with the things of this world. Draw me away from these concerns and desires and pull me deeper into love with you. Delve into my heart, be my all in all. Amen.


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Faithful God

Reading: Genesis 37: 12-28

Verse 28: “His brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt”.

A cruel and violent death is avoided – at least for now. The brothers avoid staining their hands with their own brother’s blood. Of the choice between two evils, they have chosen the lesser one. The brothers are twenty shekels richer and rid of their troublesome little brother. Joseph travels south, bound in chains, headed into a life of slavery. It is about as far away from spoiled favorite child as one could get.

Joseph has been separated from his family, but he is not all alone. Although he might have felt all alone as the caravan headed for Egypt, God was with him. God cannot control the decisions humans make or the emotions that drive those poor decisions, but he can work within situations to accomplish his plans. For example, instead of the brothers killing Joseph, along comes a caravan of merchants. Eventually it will be a severe famine that drives all twelve brothers back together again. God will continue to guide and bless Joseph, continuing to work good out of bad circumstances and situations.

This too is our experience when we are faithful and trusting in our God. When we allow God to guide our lives we will never walk alone. God will ever be at work to accomplish his good plans for us. Like it did with Joseph, sometimes life happens and we find ourselves on a road we did not choose to walk. But more often than not, we ourselves choose that other road. We choose the road that deviates from God’s plans. Yet even then God continues to walk with us, to work in our lives. God provides opportunities to return to walking with him. I may take road B instead of God’s road A. But down the line God gives me a chance to take road C or D or E – all of which lead back to God and his good plans for me. Yes, we are ever works in progress. God is a tireless and faithful worker. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving and faithful God, perhaps I deviate less that I used to. And for that I am thankful. (You probably are too!) Yet at times I still go astray, still choose less than the plans you have for me. Keep drawing me back, keep setting my feet upon your path. Thank you God for your love and faithfulness. Amen.


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The Lord’s Renown

Reading: Isaiah 55: 10-13

Verse 11: “My word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”.

Isaiah was a prophet that wrote to a nation who was astray from the Lord. Chapter 55 opens with a beautiful invitation from God to his wayward children: “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters”. God is flinging open the doors for his people to return, to come and drink of his mercy and love. Isaiah encourages the people to “seek the Lord while he may be found”. They have the opportunity to turn back to God so that they can experience God’s mercy and free pardon. In today’s passage we hear God speaking through the prophet. In these words we can hear God’s hope for his children.

In verse ten God says that just as the rain and snow that come down from heaven brings life to the earth, so too will “my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”. As Isaiah and others share the word of God, it too will bear fruit. God has prepared Israel’s soil. He has made it into good soil – into soil ready to receive the word. God’s purposes will be accomplished. Israel’s soil has been prepared through the trial and sufferings of defeat and exile. This experience has made them aware of their sins and of their need for God. We too know this experience. Times of pain and loss have driven us to God. Times of sin and suffering from it have driven us to our knees. Times of hardship and testing have driven us to cry out to God. We have all had our soil tilled by the hand of God as a means to ready us to hear his word. It has then filled us. It does not return empty.

In verses twelve and thirteen we see the result of God’s word. People who receive God’s word will “go out in joy” and will be “led forth in peace”. The earth will also rejoice and bring forth good life – the pine tree and myrtle will replace the thorns and briers. It will all be for the Lord’s renown.

As you reflect on your life, how and when has God’s word brought you new life? How did God work within and through you to accomplish his purposes? How did this all bring God the glory and renown? As we ponder these thoughts today, may we seek opportunities to share the story of what God has done.

Prayer: Loving God, each time I thirst, each time I cry out, each time I wander a bit – you are right there. Your Spirit reminds me of your promises, it brings gentle mercies, it leads me to kneel at your throne of grace. May your word dwell richly in me, yielding a crop that brings you the glory and renown that you desire. Amen.


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Work… Eat

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 3: 10-13

Verse 10: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat”.

As interconnected people we often have to work together to accomplish or achieve things. This is true at work, in sports, and in our churches. If four people are each working on a part of a project and one person fails to do their part, then the project remains incomplete. In team sports all members on the court or field must each perform their specific duties if the play is to be run well. In church, each member needs to contribute in some way or the church is less than it could be.

When I was still teaching, at times I would have my students work in groups. Occasionally one would not do much. Often the others would pick up the slack because they wanted to succeed. They might finish, but the end product would be less than if all four had done their part. Once in a while the lazy student would become disruptive, taking away from the group’s effort. If redirection did not work, the last resort was to form a “group of one”. This is what Paul is hinting at today’s passage as he addresses the sin of idleness.

In verse ten Paul reminds the Thessalonians of the rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat”. When one fails to contribute and also draws away the resources of the group, this negative balance brings the organization down. But this is just one consequence. It seems the idle folks have found something to do. They have become busybodies. This most likely involves gossip and other forms of negative behavior. They have become the student in the group not only failing to contribute but also being a barrier to the rest of the group completing their work. Paul urges them to get with the program – to “settle down and earn the bread they eat”. Be a contributor and not a taker. In the following verses Paul goes on to offer the “group of one” advice: “do not associate with him”.

The danger of being idle can also affect our personal faith. If we become willing to hit the snooze button instead of getting up to pray and study the Bible, then we inhibit our faith growth. If we become willing to allow a friend to take us fishing on a Sunday morning, then we are missing out on an opportunity to grow closer to God. If we choose or place worldly things or people ahead of our faith, we are being spiritual busybodies. When we do these things, we are choosing not to eat the bread of life. We are also likely filling ourselves with things that negatively affect our relationship with God. When we stray from our spiritual disciplines, our connection to God and to others suffers. Instead, let us each be encouraged by Paul’s words: “Never tire of doing what is right”. Then we will be pleasing to the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to skip my quiet time or to not go to that study or meeting, remind me of Paul’s warning and encouragement. Whenever I choose you, life is so much better. May it be so. Amen.


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Simply Be Conduit

Reading: Luke 10: 17-20

Verse 20: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”.

The 72 return to Jesus overjoyed with all they were able to accomplish. They could not wait to share with him the wonderful things they did – “even the demons submit to us”. Jesus was ready for this. He acknowledges that, yes, he “saw Satan falling like lightning”. He then quickly reminds them that he gave them the power and that he kept them safe and protected.

We can be like the disciples. When we have been faithful to the task that God has given us and when we experience “success”, we can quickly claim recognition or glory for ourselves. We can quickly fall into the “look what I did” trap. Like the disciples, we can get excited when our service leads people to responses of faith or to a commitment to Christ. We can forget that it was the Spirit that led us and that it was God within that gave us the words to speak or led us in the action we took. We too need reminded that only with Jesus and only when the Spirit is working in and through us do we accomplish great things for the kingdom.

Jesus said to the disciples, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”. The rejoicing comes in knowing that our prayers or words or actions had eternal kingdom consequences. Maybe the impact was someone moving closer to beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Maybe the consequence was God moving us deeper in our faith. Maybe it was both. When we are faithful and when we remain closely connected to God there is little doubt who has the power and the ability to do great things. It is all God. May we simply be the conduit through which God works today.

Prayer: Lord, may I be open to your Holy Spirit as it leads and guides me today. Draw me close to you, O Lord, so that all I do and say and think brings you glory. Amen.


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Rescue

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

Verse Five: “I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses”.

Our passage today opens with this “man” being given a vision and being brought up to the “third heaven”. The man experiences paradise and other inxpressible things. It is an experience that very few have. For those who walked with Jesus and long for His return, a visit to heaven would be the next best thing. For the Corinthians, to whom Paul writes, this would be an amazing person to talk to, to quiz, to gain insights into heaven from. Most experts believe that Paul was this man, so he probably could have gone on and on about his heavenly experience.

Paul is avoiding a temptation common to man. We have all been around people who enjoy telling of their great successes and their grand adventures. They love to go on and on about themselves. We have also been around people who always seem to have a better story. Someone shares about a lovely trip they just had and this person says something along the lines of, “Well, that was nice but let me tell you about MY trip to…”. At times maybe we are these people or certainly we are tempted to be these people. We do like to share our accomplishments or at least to have them recognized.

Paul instead says to his audience, “I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses”. Weakness is an odd thing to boast about. This is counter to our first thought about how to introduce ourself to someone. We tend to want to share the good stuff. None of us starts off a conversation with something like, “Nice to meet you. I am up to my eyes in debt and I struggle with alcohol”. While it may be true, we do not begin here.

During his life, Paul has experienced some amazing things. He could go on and on with his experiences and his success stories. Instead, he wants his audience to be present to what he does and says now, when he is with them. To begin to do this, he turns the focus to his weaknesses. Maybe there is a lesson here for us the next time we want to have a faith conversation with someone. Being vulnerable and honest and transparent in sharing how Jesus rescued this sinner is perhaps the best way to help another see how Jesus could rescue them too. We’ve all done wonderful things in life. But our story of faith is not about us or what we’ve done, it is about Jesus and what He has done in us. This is the real story that we have to share – our rescue story. May we share it well today.


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Word

Reading: Isaiah 55: 6-13

Verse 11: My Word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return empty…

Our passage today opens with a great invitation: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near”.  This is an open-ended invitation, but the writer goes on to encourage even the wicked to seek the Lord ‘for He will freely pardon’.  The invitation to be in God’s presence is open to all.  It remains so today.

Then, in verse eight, God reminds us of the difference between us and God.  God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”.  The word God uses to define the difference is “higher” – as in too big or too expansive for us to fully understand.  We love and worship a huge God.  Yet God loves little us.  That is an amazing love.

The passage then shifts to nature.  God speaks of the rain and snow that doesn’t simply fall from the sky and return to the sky.  It falls for a purpose.  It waters the earth.  In doing so the rain and snow bring forth new life and seed for the sower.  Water is an essential for all life.  Life cannot exist or continue without water.

The the Lord says that His Word is like the water.  It does not return empty to God but “will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”.  It is like water in that it nourishes our souls and brings life to us.  And life water to all life, God’s Word is essential to our spiritual life.  We must drink deeply and God will accomplish whatever He wants through us.

The end of Isaiah 55 speaks of the new life we find when we drink of God’s Word.  Verse 12 says, “you will go out in joy and be led forth in peace”.  When we dwell in the Word of God we do go out into life full of joy and resting in His peace.  As we dwell in the Lord’s Word, may we allow it to settle deep down in us to achieve and accomplish God’s purposes in our life.