pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Bars and Rods

Reading: Isaiah 9:4 – “For as in the days of Midian, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.”

Devotional writer Hannah Adair Bonner uses a great analogy in her writing on this verse. She invites us to remember a time when we carried too many grocery bags. For me it usually comes from the “I can make it in one trip” thought. She then asks us to recall how we felt when we made it to the kitchen or wherever it was that we plopped the bags down. Bonner then flips the scenario a bit, asking us to think of a time when someone came along and helped, relieving our burden, making sure that we could make it. Bringing her point home, she notes that the burdens many carry in life are “much more complicated than groceries.”

In our short text God was the one who came alongside Israel as she struggled under a burden. The bar and rod of the oppressor was heavy upon the nation’s shoulders. God saw the struggle and responded by shattering the yoke. God broke it into itty bitty pieces. What oppressed people in your circles or in your community? Is it a lack of resources – food, shelter, clothing, heat, water, medical care, education, employment? It is a hard circumstance – addiction, abuse, incarceration, neglect, illness? Or are they under the rod of injustice or racism or sexism or some other evil? And the reality for most folks who are burdened is this: they are not carrying just one bag.

How will you respond to what you see? How will I? Let us begin as God did, coming alongside those who are burdened. Then may we seek to bring relief. And as our relationship and understanding grows, then may we seek to be breakers of rods and bars. May it be so as we seek to reveal God to this hurting and damaged world.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and my heart. Seeing and feeling, put me to doing. Amen.


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The Light!

Readings: Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-17

Verse 16: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” (Matthew 4)

Our passages today are connected. In Isaiah 9 we read a prophecy about a day to come when one who is light walks among the Gentiles. At the time of this writing it would have been a radical thing to consider. It was maybe even a bit scandalous. God, our God, stepping outside this tightly constructed circle drawn securely around Israel? How could that ever be?! God is the God of Israel. Those Gentiles are clearly outside of God’s love, mercy, light…

Fast forward several hundred years and Jesus, God in the flesh, moves into the land of the Gentiles. Doing so, Jesus begins to fulfill these words of Isaiah: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” Darkness was and continues to be an absence of God’s presence. Light was and is God’s presence. Coming as the light that illuminates the darkness, Jesus proclaims: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Repent, turn away from the darkness within. Turn and walk in the light as the Christ has come. The light is here.

Turning back to Isaiah 4, we see the result of walking in the light, of walking with Jesus Christ. There is a joy and a rejoicing that comes from a life lived in Christ. There is a freedom from the darkness: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them.” The light of Christ in our hearts wards off the darkness. And even when we stumble and stray into the darkness now and again, the light always shines, drawing us back even as it drives away the darkness. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, let your light shine into my life, showing me the way to go, lighting the path that you would have me walk. When temptation creeps in, blast it with your light. O light of the world, be with me always. Amen.


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Unto Us, To Us

Reading: Isaiah 9: 2-7

Verses 6-7: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will reign with righteousness and justice… forever”.

Early in the book of Isaiah the prophet writes to a people living in the darkness and suffering of exile. They are enduring the consequences of their corporate disobedience to God. At the start of chapter nine Isaiah writes, “there will be no more gloom” – the time in exile is coming to an end – and he writes, “in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles” – a region containing Nazareth, hometown of the Lord.

Our passage today begins with these Christmas words: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. The light of the world is coming. Almighty God, born in the flesh, will bring light and holiness into the world, driving away the darkness and evil. In verse four Isaiah again speaks Jesus words, saying, “you have shattered the yoke that burdens them”. The Prince of Peace will give all for humanity, forever breaking the bonds of sin and death, bringing true peace to all who believe.

In verses six and seven we read these words of Isaiah that draw our minds to the Messiah: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will reign with righteousness and justice… forever”. Born of the virgin Mary, conceived of the Holy Spirit, the child is for us, given to us – to save, redeem, and restore us and our world, to be our Wonderful Counselor, to die for us, to rise and dwell in us and with us forever. The Everlasting Father, born of the flesh, comes to be a part of our world and our lives… forever! His birth we celebrate today. Thanks be to God for the gift of Light, unto us, for us, forever.

Prayer: God of all the universe, in a humble way you came into our world. You walked among us seeking to do nothing but give of yourself in love. You left this world doing just that once again. And now and forevermore you rule with love and mercy, hope and peace, justice and joy. Thank you for being my Savior. Amen.


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Step by Step

Reading: Matthew 11: 25-30

Verse 29: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart”.

In the second section of this week’s passage from Matthew 11, Jesus begins by reminding us that faith comes to those who are pure in heart and who have a childlike heart. Faith is, after all, a thing of the heart, not of the head. The wise of this world have no need for faith in Jesus – at least in their minds. Only those whom God chooses to reveal the Son to will know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

In verse 28 we hear the invitation to come to Jesus, to turn over our weariness and burdens to him. When we give these things to Jesus, we find relief. When we trust him with our worries and fears, with our doubts and concerns, he will help to lift these things. When we are worried and burdened by our sin, when we confess and repent of these things, he will lift these as well. This is what Jesus is talking about when he says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart”. A yoke implies a pair, a team, a partner. Jesus is inviting us to be yoked to him. He is inviting us into a relationship with him where we walk side by side, sharing the load together. As we do so, we do learn from him. We learn first that Jesus is gentle and humble. Love comes first with Jesus, followed quickly by grace and mercy, peace and joy, forgiveness and restoration. He is the gentle shepherd. Being humble comes next. Jesus teaches us to think less and less of self and more and more of God and other. He models a servant’s heart that is willing to serve one and all.

As we walk, yoked to Jesus, we do find rest for our souls. The burdens and cares of this world begin to pale. This happens as our trust in God grows to become more and more like Jesus’ trust in God. The further we journey, the more we come to understand that his “yoke is easy” and that the “burden is light”. As we mature in faith, the walk of faith becomes easier as our trust grows and following becomes more natural as we learn to walk step by step with Jesus Christ. Today and every day may we be yoked to Jesus, learning to walk more and more like him.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for walking with me daily, for showing me the way that leads to abundant life. Your love and kindness amaze me. Your grace and mercy astounds me. Guide my feet and my heart today as I seek to walk in step with Jesus. Amen.


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Spend Yourselves

Reading: Isaiah 58: 6-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”.

In today’s passage, God begins to help the Israelites and us to understand what kind of fast is pleasing to the Lord. It is not the type of fast that matters. What matters is how the fast affects the condition of the heart. The fast God chooses is one that draws the participant closer to God. This closeness leads to loosening the chains of injustice, to breaking the yokes of oppression, to feeding the hungry, to sheltering the wanderer, to clothing the naked. A heart aligned with God’s heart also deters us from “turning away from your own flesh and blood”. A heart attuned to God is a heart attuned to the needs of our neighbor and of the world.

Great things happen when this is how we love God. In verse eight we read, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. Our faith will become a light that shines out into the world, lighting the path to Jesus. The light will shine into the darkness, revealing sin and injustice and oppression and need. Not only will our own hearts be healed, but God’s healing power will move out into the world through us. Isaiah proclaims that our “righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard”. This makes it sound like we can do about anything in the name of the Lord. In fact, this is what Jesus also promises in John 14:12.

Again, speaking to the Israelites and to us, God promises to hear the faithful when they call and to answer when they cry out. When his people pray, God draws near. The passage closes with the same call – to “spend yourselves” on those in need of food, shelter, justice, peace… It is in caring for and loving one another that redemption and renewal occur. When we do so, God will strengthen our foundation and will repair our brokenness. Isaiah is casting a vision for a future filled with love and mercy and compassion. God invites us to be a part of that reality. May it be so as we work to build God’s kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Loving God, as I read these words of Isaiah the life and teachings of Jesus jump out of the words. His love and obedience led to a ministry of healing and hope and restoration. Lead me to give my all, spending myself, as I seek to walk in his footsteps today. Amen.


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A Bit More

Reading: Isaiah 9: 3-4

Verse 4a: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them”.

The opening section of Isaiah 9 is titled “Into Us a Child Is Born” and it references the birth of the “wonderful counselor… the prince of peace”. Isaiah begins earlier in the chapter stating “a light has dawned” as he explains how the people walking in darkness see the light. In his time, Isaiah is writing to a people living in exile. The coming of the light will occur in about 700 years and the exile will last about 200 years – until at last the people return to the promised land. Isaiah calls the people to look forward to the time when God will restore them. In doing so, Isaiah casts a vision of hope.

In our time, when we see people struggling, some living in darkness, we can also help bring light, casting a vision for hope. Maybe all we can do is provide for a basic need like fuel for the heater or food for the stomach. Maybe all we can do is to contribute to the offering for toiletries for the elderly or to donate to the coat drive at school. Maybe all we can do is to walk alongside a friend as they seek to walk the steps of a recovery program. Maybe all we can do is to be present and to sit with someone in the pain of grief and loss.

In our passage today, in verse four, Isaiah writes about how God “shattered the yoke that burdens them”. This will happen for Isaiah’s audience as God leads the people out from under the oppression of exile and back into the land that God intended them to live in. This act brought freedom to the Israelites. Many years later, Jesus modeled how to bring freedom to broken and hurting souls. Some if it did begin by meeting basic needs – like when he fed the large crowds. Some if it began by hearing their brokenness and then doing something about it, helping them find hope – like with the woman caught in adultery. In love, Jesus brought light to many people’s darkness.

When we offer assistance, when we help out, when we encourage and support, when we walk with another, when we bring comfort, we too are bringing light into darkness, we too are removing the yoke that burdens. It may only be temporary in many cases. Perhaps tomorrow or yet another day we can lift it a bit more and then a bit more, opening the door one day for Jesus to come into their hearts. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Father God, even in our small community there is much need. There are many who feel a yoke across their backs. Guide me today to help lift those burdens where I can. Give me eyes to see and hands to act and words to bring light and hope. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Choose Jesus

Reading: Matthew 11: 25-30

Verse 29: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… You will find rest for your souls.

Jesus invites all who are “weary and burdened” to come to Him.  In the time Jesus lived, many met these conditions.  The Romans who ruled the land extracted high taxes that was a great burden to many.  Their different gods and laws also placed a burden on the people.  Living in this kind of oppression made the people weary.  And for many, the Jewish Law added another layer.  It was burdensome and made people even more weary.  From Jesus’ perspective the Law was cumbersome and impossible to keep on one’s own.

Today many people feel weary and burdened.  The lifestyle people live brings these conditions upon them.  For some it is self-imposed and for others it is their reality.  Some in our society choose to be so busy and involved in so many things that they feel like they are always running on empty.  Others in our society feel weary and burdened because of their circumstances in life.  Some in this group work and work but feel like they never can get to a place of stability and peace.  The money never seems to cover all the bills and the choice must be made between food and electricity.  Others in this group are weary and burdened because of addictions or abusive behaviors and always feel trapped and hopeless.

Jesus called out to all the people of His day and continues to call out to us today who feel weary and burdened.  Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… You will find rest for your souls”.  He invites us to walk a different path, to live a better way.  It begins by being yoked to Jesus.  This begins by professing Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives and dedicating our life to following Him.  In doing so, we commit to learning from Jesus and the example He set.  One may wonder, why take on more?  Because Jesus will bring you rest.  He will help carry those burdens and troubles.  He will give strength and courage to face those sins and demons.  With Jesus’ yoke we find contentment and peace in our lives.  To all who are weary and burdened, choose Jesus, for “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.  Choose Jesus.


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Speaking, Shining

Reading: Philemon 1-21

In this short letter Paul is practicing what Jesus taught.  Paul is standing up for one of the least.  Paul is reaching out to Philemon, a good friend and fellow Christian, and asking him to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a fellow brother in Christ.  To help Philemon’s decision Paul offers to pay for whatever is has cost Philemon while Onesimus has been ‘away’.  Paul is truly living out his faith in no only speaking up for a slave but also by being willing to give sacrificially for him as well.

While we do not live in a time when there are actual slaves, we do have plenty of people who are marginalized and who are trapped by their situation or conditions.  We do live in a culture that excludes and leaves some on the outside looking in.  We do live in an economy where many are used and exploited.  So, no, we do not have slaves, but there are many without voice or power.  As Christians, we are called to “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and to break every yoke”.  Isaiah 58 goes on to call us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the wanderer.

Paul was able to speak for Onesimus because he knew him.  In our daily lives our paths do not regularly cross the paths of the marginalized, the hungry, the naked.  To speak and act for them we must go to where they are and seek to know them.  It is our call to love and care for the least and the lost.  Isaiah 58 reads, “then your light will break forth like the dawn, … your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard”.  This day may we seek places and ways for our light to break forth, bringing God’s glory and live to all people.