pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Words of Delight

Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5

Verse 3: “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.”

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In today’s passage Isaiah is writing about Zion (or Jerusalem), the center of the Jewish faith. Isaiah wrote during tumultuous times, often speaking hard words of truth calling the people away from sin and back towards God. He also spoke words of hope. In spite of the sins of the people and the consequences that would come, God remained faithful, always loving God’s people. During their exile it often felt like God was silent or absent. That is where our passage today begins.

In the opening verse God declares, “I will not keep silent.” One day God will again speak. God will restore Zion. Her righteousness will then “shine out like the dawn” and the salvation she will experience will be “like a blazing torch.” All the nations and kings will see how God restores Zion. A new name will be given: “my delight is in her”. To Zion God says, “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.” How things will be different when the people return to walking in the ways of the Lord. What a glorious day that will be!

We can also read these words as words that are personal, as words that bring us hope when we have gone astray. The same love expressed for Zion is present in our relationship with God. The times of separation that we experience is much like the seasons when God felt silent or absent to the Israelites. In these seasons in our lives God longs to restore and redeem us, to return us to “crowns of splendor”. The promise remains: “the Lord will take delight in you.” God will continue to draw us back in, to call out to us, to pour out mercy and grace over us, to hold us tight. What words of hope and promise! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for a love that never fails. Like Israel, sometimes I fall short; sometimes I wander from your love. But your love remains. You always seek to restore, to redeem, to reconnect with me. Thank you for your love that never fails. Amen.


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For Our Children

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verses 5-6: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will gather your children from the east… west… north… south.”

In our time in Isaiah 43 yesterday we were reminded that each child of God is loved and that God is with us in and through all this life brings. That personal focus turns a bit wider today. In verses 5 and 6 we read, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will gather your children from the east… west… north… south.”

For most of us, we baptized our children at a young age. We and our communities of faith promised to provide an example of faith and to raise our children up to one day claim faith for themselves. The child was marked with the promised seal of the Holy Spirit. Many of our children were confirmed, claiming this faith of their parent(s) and church for themselves. Along the way our culture and society taught them to compete, to excel, to be independent, to focus on self. These inwardly focused norms run against the faith norms of humble service and loving God and others more than self. As we watch this struggle take shape within our children as they become young adults, we hope and pray that the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through their lives. We hope and pray that those seeds of faith will sprout, renewing their faith in the Lord as they navigate life.

We do not hope and pray alone. Jesus continues to intercede for our children. The Holy Spirit continues to be that still, small voice in their hearts. God yearns to “bring back my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” We continue to be examples of faith, living as ones called by God’s name. May we ever hope and pray for our children, for God’s children, for these “formed and made” in the image of our loving God.

Prayer: Lord God, draw back all your sons and daughters. Use us as living examples of humble service and faithful love, bringing back our children and your children, all for the glory of your name. Amen.


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“I am with You.”

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verse 1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

These past two years have been filled with fear, unknowns, angst, grief, anger, conflict, sorrow. Perhaps we’ve had others seasons filled with these things, but outside of the great world wars we have not experienced a prolonged difficult season like this. Isaiah speaks to a people who felt all of these emotions and maybe more. The Babylonians swept in like COVID, bring much sorrow and pain and… As their years in captivity drug on, the Israelites surely asked questions like, “How long?” and “When can we return to what was normal?” These are very much the questions of our day as well.

Into the anger and sorrow and unknown and everything else, God spoke these words through Isaiah: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” Into these powerful and very real emotions, God reminds the people: “I am with you. You are mine.” Yes, this is an unprecedented time, but God is with the Israelites. Yes, it’s starting to feel like forever, but it is not. Going on in verse two we read, “I will be with you.” Those waters and rivers that feel like they’ll sweep over you? “No, I am with you.” Those fires that feel like they will consume you? “No, I am with you. You are mine.” These words of reassurance and hope kept the people going in exile. It sustained them until this season passed.

As we near the two-year mark for this current pandemic, we too need the hear these words: “I am with you. You are mine.” We too need to claim these words, to cling to them, to write them on our hearts. May our trust and hope in the Lord drive away the fear. May God’s presence carry and sustain us as we walk forward in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, you have been faithful always – forever. You have calmed fears and brought peace. Your love has strengthened and encouraged. Be with us on this journey, walking with us day by day. Amen.


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Part of God

Reading: John 1: 1-3

Verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As the new year begins we read from John 1. This poetic and beautiful description of Jesus coming into the world is a great place to begin a new year. In one way today is just a Saturday, another day in our lives. In another way today is special – the first day of a new year. Usually January 1 signals a fresh start, one often filled with optimism. 2021 was different though. It was more of 2020 – a hard year for humanity and for many nations, ours included. We had hoped for an end to the pandemic and the grief, but it was and is not yet to be so. So maybe now more than ever we need the reminder from John 1.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Since before creation began, since before this world was spoken into being, there was Jesus, this part of God that was partly like what was about to be created. God is not simplistic or easily explainable. God is so far beyond our understanding and yet this part of God was able to become like us, to take on flesh. When we read in Genesis 1 that God created humanity in God’s image, it was in the image that became Jesus as he took on flesh. It is this same part of God that was present in the creation process.

In verse three we read that through the Word, through Jesus, all things were made. This earth and all that it is was created for humanity to foster and steward and care for. It makes sense that Jesus, this part of God who would come as one of us, would have a key role in creating and forming this world. It would be like the farmer having a role in developing a new seed type. This part of God that we can understand better and personally connect to is Jesus Christ, our hope and our salvation. As we enter 2022, may we do so following Jesus Christ, God with us, our Emmanuel.

Prayer: Lord God, since before time existed, you were. Since time began, you have been. When this sense of time ends, you will continue to be. You came into this time, into this world, incarnate in the part of you we know as Jesus. Thank you for this gift that helps us better understand you and your love. Amen.


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Being the Light

Reading: Isaiah 9: 2-7

Verse 6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

We begin our Christmas Eve with a word of hope from Isaiah 9. The prophet speaks of a day to come – of a day when war will be no more and when rejoicing will come with the harvest. Later today in many churches we will hear from Luke 2. Angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph, a manger and a baby – these will be our focus later today.

In verse two Isaiah writes, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” For those living in captivity during Isaiah’s day, these words give hope. By Jesus’ time the oppressor was different, but the people still longed for a day when Isaiah’s words would come true. John the Baptist had put people on alert. They were ready to return to God and to a holy way of living. Today there are other forms of darkness that people struggle in. Poverty, prejudice, addiction, abuse, favoritism, injustice, and homelessness are just a few of the forms of darkness in our world. Grief, loss, illness, and broken relationships are others. In verse four Isaiah promises that God will “shatter the yoke that burdens them.” God desires a world of love and peace, of hope and joy. In verse six we read of the first step in healing the brokenness and pain and sin of the world.

In verse six we read, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Today we celebrate this birth, this light coming into the darkness of the world. Each week leading up to today we have lit the candles of peace, hope, joy, and love – reminding ourselves of how Jesus lived in the world. Today we light the Christ candle, reminding ourselves that Jesus was and is the light of the world. As light drives away darkness, the war within each of us ceases and heaven rejoices at the harvest of the righteous. Jesus lived in righteousness, bringing justice as he drove away the evils and hurt of this world. As he prepared to return to heaven, Jesus gave his followers a commission: go and make disciples, go and transform lives. Go and be the light in their darkness, bringing love and peace, hope and joy. This is step two of God’s plan to heal and restore a broken world. It is you and me being the light of Jesus Christ. May we be the light.

Prayer: Lord God, you took on flesh and came to reveal how to live love, peace, hope, and joy out in the world. Use me each day to bring light into the darkness of this world. Amen.


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Always

Reading: Philippians 4:4

Verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

What was the hardest thing you went through in the last few weeks? What was your greatest struggle or challenge to your faith during this time? When have you felt the temptation of sin – anger, gossip, jealousy, pride, judging… – recently? How have others wronged or otherwise hurt you during the past few weeks?

Were you able to do as Paul says today? In those times of hardship or trial or suffering were you able to “rejoice in the Lord always?” This is our encouragement today. And “always” Paul says! So, how does one rejoice in the midst of such difficult situations or circumstances? It begins with another “always”: the Lord is always with us. The Lord’s presence never leaves us. In moments of anger or frustration, Christ is there to bring us peace. In moments of temptation, Christ is there to bring us strength. In moments of despair, Christ is there to give us hope. In moments of sadness, Christ is there to comfort us. In all things, Christ is always there with us. Whether by prayer, by turning to the scriptures, or by fellowship with other believers, we can be reminded of how to find all we need in Jesus Christ.

This is reason to rejoice. But there is another reason: it is part of our witness to our faith. When we walk through the trials… in faith, others notice. The world, for example, reacts to anger with anger. When we choose to react to anger with empathy or kindness or by seeking understanding, we provide an alternative way to be in the world. The joy, hope, peace, strength, comfort, grace, assurance… that we live with in the difficult and hard times reveals our faith in the one who is always with us. This day may all see Christ within us.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. Your presence always walks with me. In those times when others notice your peace, hope… make me ready to share my faith. Amen.


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Greater Still

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 18-20

Verse 19: “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered.”

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Continuing to point towards the day when the Lord God will restore Judah and Jerusalem, Zephaniah speaks hope to those who are separated from God. The people’s disobedience offended God’s sense of justice. Because of their great sin they were almost unrecognizable to God. Disaster would befall the people. But God’s love was greater still. The God who is mighty to save will one day restore Israel as well as the other nations of the world.

In verse nineteen we read, “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered.” The army that Zephaniah predicted will come and destroy, leaving behind a small remnant while carrying many off into exile. The remnant was a shell of what was and will struggle to survive. They are the lame that God will rescue. Those carried off will lose connection with God. Living in a foreign land they will be unable to worship in the temple; they will not be able to celebrate the annual holy feasts. They too will become a shell of what once was. These are the scattered that God will gather. Reflecting back upon Zephaniah’s words many years later, the Israelites will see and better understand the need for both God’s justice and God’s love.

At times we too can find hope in these words. At times life will leave us struggling – illness or disease, unwanted change, bad decisions… We can find ourselves in need of rescue. At times we will wander off, straying from our faith. We too can end up far away from God, as if we were living in a foreign land. Once there, we need God to gather us back in. At times these forces can intertwine and build one upon the other. “Life” happens and we begin to doubt or to question God, leading our faith into a place of uncertainty or maybe even separation from God. In this place we need both rescue and gathering. As it was with God’s people of old so it will be with us today. “At that time I will gather you: at that time I will bring you home.” God’s love is greater still. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, when I find myself in a place that feels void of your presence, stir up the Holy Spirit in my heart. Remind me of your living presence and of your great love for even me. Thank you for your steadfast love. Amen.


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Give Thanks

Reading: Matthew 6: 25-33

Verse 33: “Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

We take a break from the lectionary readings for this week to read from Matthew 6. This is a common passage for Thanksgiving. These words of Jesus tie in well with the themes of this time of the church year. We just celebrated “Reign of Christ” Sunday in many of our churches. In this passage Jesus calls us to trust in God’s love and provision for us – to trust that God reigns over all things. This coming Sunday begins Advent. Many will light the candle of hope. Today’s passage calls us away from worry and from seeking the things of this world, towards placing all of our hope in our “heavenly Father.”

There are many things that we can worry about. Jesus names food and clothing in today’s passage. We can also worry about shelter, heat, safety, health care, education. These too are necessities. They are also givens for most of us – things that we simply take for granted. Yet many worry day to day about these basics of life. In our land of abundance and plenty, no one should worry about any of these things.

This day many will gather with friends and family to celebrate a holiday. Many will include giving thanks to God today. In verse 33 we read, “Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” When we trust first in God and not in the things of this world, then we truly receive a blessing. The blessing is not in the things we receive or do not receive. The blessing is in the relationship, in the abiding presence of God – the one who is loving and faithful, generous and steadfast. On this day of giving thanks may we celebrate and live into our relationship with the God who reigns over all the earth.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for walking day by day with me, for loving me unconditionally. Each day may I lean into your reign, O Lord. Amen.


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Leading

Reading: 2nd Samuel 23: 1-7

Verses 3-4: “When one rules over men in righteousness… in fear of God, he is like the light of morning.”

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Our passage today brings us God’s word to David about leading. He is at the end of his life, reflecting on being king. He begins with God’s words to him about being a good leader: “When one rules over men in righteousness… in fear of God, he is like the light of morning.” David sought to love God, to be a man after God’s own heart. He sought to live in righteousness, in reverence of God. David walked with God and God blessed his reign. David was light to his people. He provided safety and security for those living in his kingdom. David brought hope to the people and increased Israel’s prosperity.

For almost all of his reign David ruled with justice, seeking to bring good to all. But at least once David abused his power, using it to gratify his own pleasures. Power can be abused. It can harm others. Power can be used to serve self instead of God or the common good. When used in these ways, power adversely affects those on the margins, those without power themselves. In David’s day these would be the widows and orphans, the aliens or foreigners living among them. Such as these remain those without power today. Good and just rules care for these, protect these.

While we may not lead a nation like David did, we all have power. In the places where we have power and influence, do we ourselves exhibit righteousness and a healthy fear of God? Are we light and hope to those within our spheres of leadership? Do we see and care for those on the margins? Out of the line of David came the one who saw all people as beloved and worthy. The one who fulfilled the covenant, the one who brought salvation, he truly loved unconditionally. As people led by Holy Spirit power, may we too love unconditionally, seeing all people as beloved children of God, as worthy of God’s love and our love.

Prayer: Lord God, may justice and mercy and love go before me. May peace and hope and joy go with me. May others see Christ in me today. Amen.


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Walking Faithfully

Reading: Mark 13: 1-8

Verse 2: “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Right after receiving Jesus’ teaching on the trust in God exhibited by the widow who “put in everything” Jesus and the disciples leave the temple. As they are heading to the Mount of Olives one of the disciples draws attention to the grandeur and magnificence of the temple buildings. Straight out of a teaching about relying on God and not on money (or any other earthly thing), a disciple marvels at these earthly structures. At times we too can be drawn away from what really matters. We can marvel at the new house being built by our new neighbor. We can be jealous of the new car our coworker just bought. We can long for the security of a big retirement fund. We can invest a lot of time and energy into finally having “enough.”

Jesus redirects their focus, saying, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another.” All of this – the grand buildings, the wealth of the rich, all we chase after here – all of this will crumble and fade and rust. Arriving at the Mount of Olives, Jesus continues. Jesus answers the disciples’ “When?” question with how and what. What? “Watch out that no one deceives you.” The world and even some in ministry will offer all kinds of answers to what we need, to what ails us, to what ‘success’ looks like. The disciples have come to know the way, the truth, and the life. So have we. Do not be deceived.

How will we know the end is here, Jesus? He gives them some signs that will indicate it is drawing near: wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines. These signs that have been happening for almost 2,000 years are “the beginning of birth pains.” It has been a long labor. Even though the groans of birth pains persist and grow louder we still await the day of the Lord’s second coming. With a hope placed squarely on Christ alone and with an enduring faith in God’s plans, may we continue walking each day hand in hand with the one who was and is and is yet to come.

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes the world swirls around us and it is hard to focus on faith and trust in you. When the waters rise, part the sea and pull us back in. When the fires rage, walk through them with us. When the doubts and lies of the evil one creep in, wrap your love around us. Day by day, guide us. Day by day, use us to walk as witnesses to your love. Amen.