pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Put the Spirit on Me!

Reading: Isaiah 42: 1-9

Verse 1: “I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations”.

Isaiah writes and speaks to the defeated, hopeless nation of Israel. They have been in exile for almost a generation. Many are beginning to wonder if this is their new reality. The people need to be reminded that God’s love still burns bright and that God’s promises remain true. We too can get to this point after being too long in the valley of trial or grief or suffering. As we begin Holy Week, I think of the disciples as they spent that first Sabbath without Jesus. He has just been crucified, swallowed up by the grave.

Beginning in verse one of Isaiah 42, God speaks of a coming servant, of one in whom God will delight. God foretells, “I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations”. This servant will not break a “bruised reed”, he will not snuff out a “smouldering wick”. No, the servant will bring healing and love just as God will bring back the exiles, bruised and smouldering as they are, back to Israel, back to life. The servant will bring life. He will “open eyes that are blind, set free captives, … release those who sit in darkness”. Jesus will be the new covenant and the light to the Gentiles. All will fall within God’s circle of love as revealed by Jesus Christ. In and through Jesus a “new thing is declared”: you are loved! These words will be poured out to one and all through God’s radical, unconditional love.

As I consider these words and the example set by Christ, the one who loved Jew and Gentile, slave and free, saint and sinner, rich and poor…, I ask myself who I struggle to love. As I search my heart, preparing it to allow Jesus to wash my feet and to share the bread and cup with me on Maundy Thursday, I find ones who I struggle to love. How would Jesus love such as these? Jesus would love without limit, without condition, without requirements. Who comes to mind for you?

May God put his Spirit on me and on you. May we shine the light of Jesus’ love on one and on all.

Prayer: Lord God, this is a tough thing to consider today. Who do I fail to love as you love them? What limits my ability to love as Jesus loved? Lord, I want to be an instrument of justice, a bearer of your love. Convict me by the power of the Holy Spirit when I fall short, when my love fails. Empower me by the same Spirit to love more like you love. Amen.


Leave a comment

Redemption

Reading: Luke 2: 36-40

Verse 38: “She spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”.

Today as we read this short section from Luke 2 we focus in on Anna and her words concerning Jesus. Anna is an old woman, a prophet with a deep devotion to God. She has been a widow for a long time and the focus of her life is praying and fasting in the temple. After thanking God – for the encounter, for seeing the Messiah, for what Jesus means to her people – Anna “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”. At this point in their history, all Jews are looking forward to Jerusalem’s redemption.

The act of redeeming has always been a part of the Jewish faith. Mary and Joseph have just redeemed Jesus, Boaz was the kinsman redeemer, and the Jews celebrated the Year of Jubilee every 50 years. In each of these acts, one is released or freed – from their debts, from their slavery, from a burden that forced them to sell family land. This idea of being freed from that which binds us is very much a part of Jesus’ ministry and healing. Jesus healed both relationships and physical ailments. Often these were tied together. Physical healing often led to relational healing. By revealing the depth of God’s love, mercy, and grace, Jesus drew many back into relationship with God and with one another. He brought a wholeness to life that invited people to live with joy, peace, and hope. Jesus also healed people physically – lepers, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed – also inviting people back to God and back into society, family, and community. Jesus brought a completeness and unity to life that was freeing and welcoming, that was unconditional and full.

When I think about this side of redemption that Jesus offered, I am drawn to my community and to my neighborhood. Nearby, there are folks who are bound up in or with addiction and abuse, folks who feel enslaved to financial debt, folks who feel isolated and alone, folks who are grieving because of loss. Jesus offers the same redemption, the same healing, the same freeing today. He offers it through you and through me. May we be a part of building other’s faith, seizing the opportunities that God gives us to share our faith with others, inviting them into the love, hope, peace, and joy of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, you seek to redeem, to free all people. You are a God of love and justice and community. Use me this day to draw others in, to add to the family of faith, to bring your healing and freeing love to those who need to know you. Amen.


Leave a comment

Light Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse 3: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair”.

Today’s words from Isaiah burst with hope and the promise of new life. It is easy to relate these words to the time in which we now find ourselves. Just as the Israelites felt powerless and hopeless against the Babylonians and the exile, so too do we feel against the coronavirus and social isolating. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people so needed a light in the darkness. Today, this remains our need as well.

Our passage begins with God empowering Isaiah to bring good news and healing, freedom and release. Neither you or I need to think very long to come up with a lengthy list of folks who desire these things today. We yearn for the “year of the Lord’s favor” in the way the Israelites did. Most of 2020 does not feel like there was very much favor. If not us ourselves, we are surrounded by folks who need comfort in their grief. Each of these needs the blessings of verse three: beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. Today, as in Isaiah’s day, almost all long for these – beauty, gladness, and praise. Yes, we are much like Isaiah’s original audience.

In verse four the empowerment extends to God’s people. It is not just God or Isaiah that have roles to play. Today we fall into this call as well. Isaiah prophesies that the people will help rebuild the ruins and restore the places that were devastated. The people will help renew that which was ruined. The people will not sit idle. Once they are released from their current circumstances, once the light again shines, they will be a part of the year of the Lord’s favor.

We are empowered by the Holy Spirit and we are called by the Lord to be active participants in the sharing of the good news, in caring for the brokenhearted, in bringing freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. We are not to sit idly by in this time of exile and social isolation. We, as people of faith, must bring beauty and gladness and praise to our neighbors and to our communities. The light is coming. May we help prepare those in ashes, mourning, despair, and darkness to receive the light. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, use me as part of your healing work. Guide me to those needing good news, to those needing healing of body, mind, or spirit. May each find freedom through your light and love. Amen.


Leave a comment

Laying Claim

Reading: Luke 4: 14-21

Verse 21: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.

Jesus returns home. He goes to the synagogue to teach. The scroll of Isaiah is brought to Him. He opens to and reads the section about good news, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, release for the captives, and the year of the Lord’s favor. These things will become most of the core of Jesus’ ministry. For a people living under the powerful rule of the Romans, these words would sound pretty good. But then, with these thoughts, they would be looking for a different kind of a Messiah or king.

Jesus sits down and then says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. It is truth, but the people in Nazareth do not see it. Jesus has a reputation starting to grow for being a good preacher, but to them this claim seems a bit much. Yes, Jesus was a really good kid growing up here, but to lay claim to what Isaiah is talking about?

The inability to see persists. People today will acknowledge that Jesus was a good moral teacher and maybe even did a miracle or two. But change my life? Influence the way I live? Don’t think so. Lots of people today do not see Jesus as someone who can change their lives, as someone who can free them from the powers of this world.

I think sometimes we sell Jesus short too. As a Christian we have a personal relationship with Jesus, but sometimes we think Him too small or ourselves too unworthy. We think that our problems are too small to bother Him about, so we guard our prayers or our expectations. Or we feel like Jesus must have better things or bigger concerns to worry about. But the passage from Isaiah that Jesus claimed – it was for one and for all. It is a vision that continues to unfold for all people. The words Jesus spoke He speaks to you and me too, in the present tense: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. Claim it. Today and every day, claim it.

Prayer: Lord, be my all in all. Today and every day, be my all in all. Amen.


1 Comment

Big

Readings: Psalm 126 and Isaiah 61: 1-4 and 8-11

Key verses: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”. (Psalm 126:5) and “The Spirit of the Lord is on me… to preach… bind up… release… proclaim…” (Isaiah 61:1)

In our Advent study this week we are looking at humility – at having the mind of Christ spoken of in Philippians 2.  One of the men in our Tuesday morning study said humility is thinking less of yourself so that you could think more of others.  Humility is an active practice.  These profound thoughts fit well with the humble servant hood that Jesus modeled and calls us to follow.  Our world is certainly in need of more humble servants.

Both the bigger world out there and many people’s lives are filled with hardship and suffering and trials.  There is plenty of oppression and abuse of power, lots of violence and other senseless actions, many struggling with addictions and unhealthy relationships, and a host of other issues.  Individuals we know face some of these issues as do whole groups in our communities.  There are lots of people in lots of places who would love to live into this verse: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

As humble servants of Jesus Christ, we are called to help those in need to do just that.  It is what Jesus did and what He calls us to do.  For all who follow Jesus, we live into the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”  When we read on, we find the “why” – to preach the good news to the poor, to heal the broken, to bring freedom to the captives, to release prisoners from all that binds them, and to proclaim God’s blessings on all.  These are big words and big ideas.  But guess what?  We serve a big God.  We serve a God who wants to work in and through us – just like He did with Jesus – to see all these things to come to be.

Sometimes we don’t see God big enough.  Sometimes we fail to dream and other times we fail to trust.  Sometimes we doubt.  Into all of this God speaks through the apostle Paul: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  May we serve a big God, trusting that all things are possible when we call on the One who can do all things.  Amen and amen.


Leave a comment

Empty… Fill

Readings: Psalm 106: 1-6 and Philippians 4: 7-9

Keys verses: We have sinned… we have done wrong and acted wickedly (Psalm 106:6).  Whatever is true… right… pure… lovely… admirable… think about such things (Philippians 4:8).

Pairing today’s readings together yields a wonderful truth for our lives.  The Psalm leads us to seek a repentant heart, to admit our sins to God, to begin again to walk in step with His ways.  We are all sinful creatures, living in a world that is full of temptations and that glorifies many sins.  Satan is always at work in our lives, trying to pry his way into our hearts and minds, working on our bodily passions as well as our human frailties and weaknesses.  It is no wonder we occasionally sin.  However, it cannot stop there.  We cannot live with or in our sin.  Each day we must come before God to be honest with God and ourselves, to name our sins, to repent and seek His forgiveness for this time and God’s strength for the next time.  To do all this is essential because it makes space for God in our lives as it clears away all the gets in the way of our relationship with Him.

Paul speaks of what can fill this space created by confessing our sins.  Into that space created by releasing our sins and inviting God into our lives, Paul suggests we think about the things of God.  He writes, “Whatever is true… right… pure… lovely… admirable… think about such things”.  When we train our minds to focus on these things, then we begin to see the world, ourselves, and others as God sees them.  This will help us to walk as Jesus walked – loving God and loving neighbor.  Walking this way will not only strengthen us in our battle with Satan, it will also lead us to have a thankful and grateful heart within us.  Once we are emptied, then He can fill us up.

When we honestly confess our sins and empty ourselves of these burdens, then we are opening ourselves up for God’s participation in our lives.  This is my prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right Spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  May it be so today.  


Leave a comment

Hope, Peace

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 26: Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you”!

The disciples are hiding in fear.  The Jews just engineered Jesus’ death and they fear for their own lives.  Jesus appears to them twice in today’s passage and both times begins with, “Peace be with you”!  In the times of worry and fear and doubt, peace is a great gift.  It is a gift we all treasure in the midst of the trial or in the storms of life.  In faith we can release our fears… to God and His peace will replace all of those emotions and thoughts.

As Jesus offers the disciples peace, He also breathes the Holy Spirit on them.  With the presence of the Spirit, the disciples will go forth into the world to spread the goods news of the resurrected and risen Jesus.  We too receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when we confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.  With that confession we also receive the same charge to share the good news.

Jesus also empowers the disciples with the power to forgive people their sins.  In this gift, followers of His can release people from all that entangles and hold them down.  It is similar to releasing our fears… to God and allowing His peace to flow in instead.  In sharing the hope and faith we find in Jesus, we are opening others up to feel the freeing power that comes when we accept the One who conquered sin and death as our personal Savior.  We are not offering atonement for their sins through us, but we are inviting the lost and broken to come to Jesus so He can do that.  He died on the cross to offer us all freedom from sin by paying for or atoning for our sins with His blood.  The freedom of releasing our sins is also a way Jesus brings peace.

The hope and peace we find when we rest in Christ is a wonderful and amazing gift.  May we offer Christ to all we meet so that they too may rest in His peace.


Leave a comment

The Struggle

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-3

Leading up to today’s story, the Israelites have had quite a relationship with God.  After hundreds of years in slavery, God hears their cries and delivers them from bondage.  In the process, they witness ten miracles that lead to their release.  The final miracle is so amazing that it becomes an annual festival that celebrates God’s saving act: Passover.  Then, just as all seems lost again, God parts the sea, the Israelites cross over, and the pursuing army is destroyed.  Shortly thereafter God provides manna each day and quickly follows that up with quail for meat.  The people have seen blessing after blessing after blessing.  In this way, many of our lives are like this.  God blesses us in so many ways.  We too can look back and see where God’s hand has been at work in our lives.  Maybe we too should have a rock-solid relationship with God, walking hand in hand all the time.

But if we delve a little deeper into the Exodus story, we see another side of the Israelites that we probably recognize in ourselves as well.  The Israelites liked the idea of freedom but grumbled to God when Pharaoh’s reaction was harsh. Then they tasted freedom, only to grumble about starving to death in the desert.  They next complain about water and God leads them to a spring.  They complain about food and long for Egypt and God provides.  The pattern is pretty consistent.  Instead of God’s miracles leading to deeper faith, the Israelites continue to show a lack of faith and trust time after time.

If we fast forward to today, the struggle continues.  Today the sense of community has largely been replaced by rugged individualism.  Instead of grumbling to one another, we simply put our heads down and try to forge a way forward.  We grip the wheel a little tighter.  And often as a last resort, we turn to God.  We look back on the people that God called ‘stiff-necked’ and wonder why they couldn’t trust God after all He brought them through.  Then we see a mirror and realize we are much the same.  We cling to control.  We too allow doubt and fear to creep in.  We too struggle to trust and to live by faith.

Acknowledging it is the first step.  Releasing control is next.  Lord God, help me to yield all to You.  Grow in me the trust that allows You to fully lead my life.  Please.


Leave a comment

To the Cross

Reading: Luke 23: 33-38

As we draw near to the end of our season in the Gospel of Luke, we come to the cross.  In a way it is odd to come to the cross as we prepare to celebrate Advent, a time when we remember Jesus’ birth.  Yet it serves to remind us of why Jesus needed to be born and to live among us.  After all, Jesus came to die.

Oh how the people wanted to have a Messiah who would rid them of the oppressive Romans.  They were looking for a new King David.  During Jesus’ ministry He brought much healing and offered some great teaching on how God really wanted humanity to live together.  For all who saw and heard Jesus or even just the stories, they all knew that Jesus was something special.  But Jesus was not the kingly Messiah they wanted so they mocked Him on the cross.  He did not meet their expectations so they ridiculed and abused Him, releasing some of their own frustrations with their current situation.

It would have been so tempting to lash out from the cross and maybe even to really save Himself.  But Jesus came for a far greater purpose.  To save Himself would have been selfish.  Jesus always placed God first, others second, and Himself last.  To save Himself would have gone against all that Jesus was and is.  Instead, Jesus chose to give Himself.  Instead of releasing His human form from the cross and wiping out the Romans, Jesus unleashed His divine self and defeated an enemy far greater and much stronger than any human empire.  On the cross and in His resurrection, Jesus defeated sin and death.  Sin and death had been ruling since the first sin entered the world through Adam and Eve.

This is why we come to the cross just before we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  It is the greatest gift mankind has ever been given – the freedom from sin and death.  Thank you Jesus.


Leave a comment

A Personal Connection

In His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus goes to the temple and teaches from the scroll containing the words of the prophet Isaiah.  Luke makes mention that many there are aware of and appreciative of Jesus’ teachings up to this point.  What He reads that day would be a well-known passage.  The ideas of bringing the good news to the poor, releasing captives, bringing sight to the blind, setting the oppressed free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor all were part of the Jewish mindset.  Heads would have been nodding their approval.  But then Jesus added one more thing.  He claimed to be the fulfillment of this passage.  He states that He is this Messiah.  He created discomfort and ruffled feathers.

Fast forward to now.  When one speaks of sharing the good news, of freeing people from whatever oppresses or holds them back, of giving spiritual sight to one who is blind, all of us nod our heads approvingly.  We too view helping others as worthy and as the calling of the church.  But sadly enough we have our “just hold on a minute” line.  It’s a wonderful idea to feed and care for the needy.  Could you just do it over there?  It is great to share the gospel with those who have not heard it.  But do they have to come and worship here at our church?  It is noble and godly to help people overcome addiction and sins in their life.  But does little Suzy have to see it played out in person?

Sorry, but yes, we need to minister to people in our churches.  Alas, we must sit beside those new to the faith, to love and mentor them, to help them connect to God.  Yes, it is messy.  Folks who struggle need help in the form of a personal connection.  We are to be Jesus’ hands and feet, touching their lives directly and walking side by side with those who are new to faith or who are struggling.  May we find a little discomfort, may our feathers get a little ruffled, and may we like it.

Scripture reference: Luke 4: 14-21