pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Acceptable?

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-5

Verse 2: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”.

Isaiah 58 starts with a pronouncement from God. In verse one God encourages Isaiah to “shout it aloud. Do not hold back”. Proclaim it from the rooftops! The message is something God wants all the people of Judah to hear. Getting right to the point, God declares the rebellion of the people, laying their sins before them. In verse two we get a hint at the heart of the problem: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”. In these phrases, the key word is “seem”. On the surface the people of Judah appear to be seeking God. In verse three the people try to defend themselves, asking why God did not notice their fasting. There is a reason.

Yesterday in church we celebrated communion. At our church we offer communion on the first Sunday of each month. In the words before coming forward there was a prayer and a time to lay our sins before the Lord, inviting us to offer repentance along with confession. Everyone in church took communion. Did all take the opportunity to search their hearts and to make a humble and sincere confession of their sins? Did all humbly desire to repent and go forth walking a more holy life? In an ideal world the answers to these questions would be yes and yes! But maybe someone was thinking instead about the Super Bowl snacks that lay ahead or about which commercial would be their favorite. Maybe someone thought they had no sins to confess. If anyone came and took communion in these or similar mindsets, they were practicing a ritual not participating in a sacrament.

The people of Judah were going through the motions of fasting. Yes, they were abstaining from food. But that is as far as their fast went. They were exploiting their workers. They were quarreling and fighting amongst themselves. The ritual of fasting was not changing their sinful ways. Their ritual fasting was not changing their hearts or helping them to be holy. A fast, when celebrated properly, works to draw one closer to God and deeper into walking in God’s ways. Communion should have the same affect. The same can be said of prayer, worship, Bible study, meditation, practicing Sabbath…

Our section for today ends with this question: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord”? Tough question. Reflect on yesterday for a minute or two. Would God ask this question of any part of your day set aside for God?

Prayer: Lord God, it is a bit disconcerting to think about when I just go through the motions instead of choosing to be fully present with you or others. Strip away my busyness, my selfishness, my distractions, my half-hearted efforts. Just as you are fully present with me, may I be so to you and to those you place before me today. Amen.


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Push Us

Reading: Acts 10: 34-43

Verses 34-35: “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”.

In our passage today, Peter reveals a heart that has witnessed the widening of God’s circle. Early on in his days following Jesus he was more focused on the chosen people, the Jews. Even though Peter was present when many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus after he spoke to the women at the well, his circle was still small. In Acts 10, Peter has a vision and a powerful moment that leads him to say, “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”. In this experience God will even challenge Peter’s notion of what is right. (In the reminder of chapter ten the Holy Spirit comes upon the Gentiles before they are baptized – not the “normal” order!)

Peter’s mind and, more importantly, his heart were changed when he allowed himself to be open to God’s voice in the visions and when he followed where God led. Once in a position to do so, Peter shared the good news with his Gentile audience. As God opened up Peter’s circle he came to understand what Jesus really meant by “go and make disciples of all people”. This would not have been possible if Peter was not willing to consider that God might just be doing a new thing in and through him. If Peter stayed stuck in his old understanding of God’s love, he would never have encountered Cornelius and family.

This leads me to wonder: when have I tried to stay in my comfort zone, avoiding the new thing that God is trying to do? When have I been hesitant to see how God is moving and opening up the path to faith to someone I do not think is worthy or ready or acceptable? Sometimes what I have understood previously has been the thing that kept me within my own little circle. At other times my stereotypes and preconceived ideas have been my barrier.

God pushed Peter to new people and to a new understanding of just how big God’s love is. It happened because Peter allowed himself to be pushed. May we each allow God to push us today.

Prayer: Loving Father, your love knows no bounds, does it? You see one and all as worthy of your love. Who and what they are or have been does not matter to you. A heart turned towards you is simply the starting point for us all. Help me today to better be your love in the world. Make my love a love for one and all, Lord. Allow me to follow closer. Amen.


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Would you…?

Reading: Mark 3: 1-6

Verse Four: “Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill'”?

Today’s passage has three perspectives. Let’s begin with the man. The man with the shriveled hand is most likely a beggar – relying on the charity of others to eat, to have clothing, etc. To go out to find Jesus might take days. This would cost him and he would likely not eat those days. But now, right here in the temple, he has found the healer, Jesus. Jew or not, he wants healing more than to observe the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is important to the Pharisees. They “watched him closely” to see if Jesus would somehow sin, breaking a Sabbath or temple law. They see Jesus as a challenge to their authority and to their place in life. The Pharisees are also the keepers of about all that the Jews have left as the people of God. The Romans have allowed temple worship to continue. As a people living under an occupying army, religious practices and traditions are about all you have left to hold your people together. It is all that keeps them a community. These two factors combine to give the Pharisees “stubborn hearts”.

Jesus is the third yet central character in our passage. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and He sees the man. You just know that Jesus is filled with compassion for the man. So He asks him to stand up. Everyone look at this man. Then Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill”? Even though this is the Sabbath – the day to honor God with worship and to do no work – what do we do with this man? For the man and Jesus there is only one correct answer. To the Pharisees, though, neither answer is acceptable. Answer one way and they are saying the Sabbath has no value. Answer the other way and they are saying the man has no value. It is a no-win situation for the Pharisees, so they remain silent.

Would you buy that cake for your child’s birthday with your last $20 or would you pay for the groceries for that single mom in front of you in line without enough? Would you be on time for that super important meeting or would you stop and help that elderly lady change her flat tire? We often stand in the Pharisees shoes – how do we decide between two goods? As Jesus did, may we choose the better good, always valuing relationship over to institution.