pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Pure Heart, Steadfast Spirit

Reading: Psalm 51: 10-12

Verse Ten: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast Spirit within me”.

Today, as we continue our Lenten journey, we come to a familiar passage. For many, the journey began on Ash Wednesday with the imposition of ashes. In our church and in many others, words very similar to the key verse were spoken: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast Spirit within me”. It was an appropriate verse to begin this season of preparation to celebrate Easter. The ideas of dying to self and of repenting of all that keeps us from God is well-represented by the ashes that began this journey.

Today’s key verse is a great reminder that we are still on this journey. In reality, though, the focus on personal holiness that we give during Lent should be a daily practice all year. Yet there is also something special about intentionally setting aside time to be more focused on our relationship with God. The result of God creating pure heart in us is a right and steadfast Spirit. When our heart is pure, then we become more open to what God is doing in our lives and in the world. As our heart is more like His when it is pure, we see and hear and feel the world more like Jesus did. And that is a good thing.

The psalmist goes on to ask God to remain in the presence of the Holy Spirit. This voice of faith that dwells in us keeps us intimately connected to God. It is through this constant presence that God does restore to us the joy of our salvation each and every day. A clean and pure heart walking daily in the Spirit’s presence is a heart willing to love God and to love people with all that we are. The daily walk is not always easy, so we too need God to sustain us for the journey of faith.

Today may we again focus in on this season of Lent, seeking to fully surrender our lives to God’s will. May we seek for God to create in us a pure heart, a heart desiring to have a steadfast and right Spirit within us, leading and guiding us to be the light and love that our world so needs. Blessings on the journey.

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Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verses Three and Four: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Today we begin the season of Lent. Lent is a period of preparation for Easter Sunday. During the season of Lent we look inward and seek to examine our lives and to repent of all that hinders our relationships with God and our fellow man. For this purpose, many give up something (or somethings) for Lent. They abstain or fast from things that get in the way of their relationship with God and, therefore, with their fellow man. In many churches we place ashes on the forehead. With ashes we are reminded of our mortality, of our absolute need for God, and of our desire to die to self so we can fully live for God.

In our passage today, Isaiah addresses fasting. It is a very appropriate reading to consider as we begin Lent. The passage opens with God directing Isaiah to “declare to my people their rebellion” and goes on to say that they “seem” eager to know God and they “seem” eager to draw near to God. In verses three and four it is revealed why: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Their fasting is for appearance; it is not to refine oneself and to draw closer to God. Today, for example, one may fast from chocolate – not for God but to loose weight. God does go on to indicate the kind of fast that is pleasing to Him. God desires us to fast from hard hearts and blind eyes, from self-centeredness and arrogance, from prejudiced and judging.

God desires for His people to loosen the chains of injustice and oppression, to offer acts of love and compassion such as feeding the hungry, offering shelter to the homeless, clothing the naked. In doing so our “light will break forth like the dawn”. To do these things, our heart needs to be in the right place. That is why we must look within to see what inhibits our relationship with God and all of His children. When our fast leads us to love and care for others, then our light does shine into the darkness. This kind of fast produces fruit as others see true faith in our hearts and they come to know the love of Christ in their hearts as well.

What is it that prevents us from seeing the needs all around us? What is it that prevents us from responding to the opportunities to love and serve others? This Lenten season may we begin to look within as we seek a walk of faith that is pleasing to God, one that shines light into darkness. May we have the courage to identify all that holds us back and prevents us from being the light in the darkness. May we have the desire to cast these things out of our hearts as we strive to walk closer to God. As we do so, God will create a clean and pure heart within each of us. May it be so for each of us. Amen.


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Praise the Creator

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34 and 35b

Verses 24 and 35b: How many are your works O Lord! … Praise the Lord.

Our Psalm today opens with a great reminder about Creator God: “How many are your works O Lord”!  All that there is – from the largest to the tiniest, all that covers the land and swims in the waters – was created by God.  The psalmist then offers praise for God’s provision.  At just the right moment, God provides for the needs of what He has created.  His love in reflected in His care.  And the Psalm also acknowledges that life ends, that breath is no more and life returns to ashes.  As created beings, we too live within this cycle of life.  We are created by God, we are loved and cared for by God, and one day our human bodies draw our last breath and we too return to ashes.

The psalmist then opens up the praise in verse 31.  In the simplicity of life we can see the glory of the Lord.  We are amazing creations, as is all of life.  Just as in the beginning God was pleased with all He had made, God continues to be pleased with the work of His hands.  Our response?  Verse 31 sums it up well: “I will sing praises to my God as long as I live”.  Because God continues to be active and engaged in our lives and world, He is worthy of our praise.

Today may we join with all of creation in praise of the mighty works of God’s hands!


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Lent and Ashes

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-17

Lent begins today on Ash Wednesday.  We mirror Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness with a season in which we too prepare ourselves and look forward to Easter, when we celebrate our risen Lord.  On this Lenten journey we pray, study, meditate, fast, and repent as means of preparation.  We begin this journey with ashes.  As we repent and work to mirror Jesus, we must work to prune away all that is impure and force certain parts of ourselves to die.  The mark of the cross on our foreheads reminds us that we belong to Jesus.  The one we seek to follow and emulate walks with us.  As we undertake this Lenten journey, we know that we do not walk alone.

Psalm 51, the Ash Wednesday choice forever, opens with, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love”.  Verse three reminds us, “My sin is always before me”.  We live each and every day with this reality.  We are always in a battle with temptation and sin; Satan remains vigilant, always seeking to derail us, to draw us away from God.  We seek and desperately need God’s mercy because we fail.  We are assured of God’s unfailing love.  This is a beautiful thing.  In verse ten we read, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.  These words will be said often tonight.  This is our goal in this life – to live with a pure heart.  Creating a pure heart is the focus of our Lenten journey.  May we use verse ten often as a prayer to God in this holy season of Lent.

Lent is certainly a time to look inward and to prepare for the risen Christ.  But we must also look outward.  We do not live in a vacuum.  We live as a part of humanity.  As such, we are all connected together.  Verse thirteen reads, “then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will turn back to you”.  We are called as Christians to shine the light of Jesus out into the world.  Many are broken and hurting.  Each needs to experience God’s unlimited mercy, unfailing love, and endless forgiveness.  As we journey through Lent, preparing ourselves, may we also help others on their journey, bringing friends and strangers alike to the cross so that they too can know our risen Savior.


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Piety – Inward and Outward

In Matthew 6 Jesus offers some tips on how we should and shouldn’t do a few things.  He advises that when we give to the needy, that we don’t make a big show of it.  He suggests that we even go so far as to give with one hand without the other even knowing about it.  He advises that when we pray we go into a quiet room.  He advises that when we fast we wash our face and make ourselves appear healthy so that others do not know we are fasting.  Jesus tells us that God knows all we do in secret and will reward us.  He is cautioning the religious leaders who like to stand before men when they pray or give.  Jesus says they have received their reward – just recognition from men.  Jesus concludes by summarizing why we should give, pray and fast as he advises – because then we are storing up treasures in heaven.

At first I thought this an odd reading on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  Lent is traditionally a season of self-examination and reflection, a season where we give something up or choose to do something ‘extra’ for others.   But then I realized the cautions of Matthew 6 are for us too.  Today is a day when many will wear the mark of the ashen cross on the forehead as a reminder of our faith.  If the cross on our forehead is simply a mark of religious piety, then we have already received our reward in full too.  If it is a personal reminder of the inner transformation taking place then it is between us and God, not as a show for the world.  If our inner change is leading to greater worship and praise of God and into humble acts of kindness to our  fellow man, then we are beginning to store up those treasures in heaven.  Now it is not about keeping score on a secret scorecard.  It is about living as a child of God.  As with Abraham, it is through right living that we too are counted righteous.

The ashen cross on our forehead can also be a conversation starter.  If a non-believer asks about it, we can explain the meaning.  In our church we use Psalm 51:10 as we administer ashes: “Create in your child a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within him/her.”  Lent is a season of giving to God and of sacrifice to remind ourselves of the repentance we must offer.   The ashen cross is also a mark of ownership – to say that we belong to Christ.  Ashes are used to remind us that we are mortal and also that Jesus chose to die for our sins.  As we go through our day today, may we allow that inner light of Christ to shine forth.  May the cross we bear in our heart (and maybe the one we bear on our forehead too) be a sign of our inward piety and may it also be a reminder that we are called to be spent in faithful service to our God and to our fellow man.