pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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No Compartmentalizing!

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

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

On Ash Wednesday I encouraged the folks in worship to consider a fast for Lent. We spent time in prayer seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit for discernment concerning what it is that we could choose that would lead us closer to God. Today in our passage Isaiah speaks of the kind of fast that pleases God. As I fasted this past week, I came close to displeasing God with my fast. I became a little grumpy within and was tempted to let it out in my words, but the Holy Spirit squashed that thought and I turned to the Lord and He moved me past my difficulty. Praise God! Yes, it was good the Holy Spirit intervened. But to truly lead to growth and to become closer to God, this experience must change me within. God has brought this struggle to my mind and heart. I must choose to now be more aware of it and must work to not go down that road again next week when I fast again.

In our passage today Isaiah is reminding us first of the ways not to fast. This would apply for all spiritual disciplines that we practice – prayer, worship, Bible study, small groups… It does not please God if we live a life of sin – oppressing others, quarreling, abusing… – and then stop to fast for a time and then return to our sinful ways. Again, the same is true for all of our spiritual disciplines. We cannot compartmentalize our faith. For example, we cannot be a good Christian on Sunday mornings and then live as a pagan the rest of the week.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Again, we can insert pray, worship, study… in place of ‘fast’. The results will be the same. Whatever our spiritual practice, it must draw us closer to the heart of God. Starting in verse 6, Isaiah reveals the heart of God to us. It is a heart that cares for and walks alongside the weak and marginalized and oppressed. It is a heart that works to break the chains of injustice and oppression. It is a heart that works to give food and shelter and clothing to those in need. I must honestly ask myself, which of these did I work for this week? We must ask ourselves this because God desires that we live our faith out in the world. If not, we are compartmentalizing our faith.

Starting in verse 8, we read about the impact of choosing to live with the heart of God as we work to live our out faith. Verse 8 reads, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. Our light draws others to God. Our souls are healed. We will call out and God will say, “Here I am”. We will come closer in our walk with God. May we seek to discover and grow closer to the heart of God as we worship, as we pray, as we study our Bibles, as we meet with our fellow Christians, and as we live out our faith. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord, make your heart my heart. Align my thoughts, my words, my actions with your heart, O God. Amen.

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Either Or

Reading: Psalm 1 and Luke 6: 22 and 26

Verses 1 and 2: “Blessed is the man… delight is in the law of the Lord… he meditates day and night”.

In both readings today there is a distinct “this or that” choice to make. There is no middle ground. According to the psalmist and according to Jesus in Luke’s gospel, you are blessed when your life is aligned with God. Conversely, you are not blessed when your life is not aligned with God. In both readings, the blessings are God’s blessings, not the world’s rewards.

The psalmist connects meditating on God’s word to being blessed. In the reading of scripture we come to know God and how God desires for us to live our lives. For the psalmist, the scriptures nourish the soul. The faithful follower is like a tree planted by the stream, growing and yielding fruit in season. Fruit is the work of God evident in one’s life. For the Jews, this would look like devout worship, giving to and caring for the needy, studying the law, teaching and modeling love for God to family and neighbor.

The inward change that comes with and through the daily study of scripture is then reflected in outward behavior. Inner change, drawing closer to God, causes us to change how we act. Loving God more necessarily leads to loving neighbor more. Luke picks up on this idea too. In our two verses from Luke, Jesus addressed that fact that these inner changes and outward manifestations do not always sit well with the world. In verse 22 we are reminded that at times our faith will draw persecution from the world. When we speak out against injustice and violence, when we speak up for equal treatment and just laws, then we can draw some negative attention. In verse 26 Jesus contrasts this with how the world treats us when we act like a false prophet – speaking the world instead of God. The world likes us then and speaks well of us. But inside we are far from the ways of God.

This faith thing is an either-or choice. We can strive to live for God or we can choose to live for self and the world. We might like to try, but we cannot walk the middle road. We cannot waver between discipleship and the ways of the world. We cannot love two masters – we will come to love one and hate the other (Matthew 6). This day and every day, may we choose to love God and to pursue God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prayer: Lord, give me a heart that loves you alone. Break me of my fleshy desires. Cast them out of me! Daily draw me more and more into your love. Amen.


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Growing Closer

Reading: Psalm 71: 1-6

Verse 2: “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me”.

The psalmist is calling out to God, seeking refuge in God. In verse two he also asks God, “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me”. He goes on to ask for saving and deliverance. The psalmist wants God to act. This same theme is found in our gospel reading for this week. In Luke 4 the people of Nazareth want Jesus, the home town boy, to perform a miracle to prove who He is. They want Him to act.

Our lives parallel the scene we find in the Psalm and in Luke at times. When life brings us an unwanted change or an illness or loss, we too seek for God to be our refuge, to save us from the trial we are facing. We want God to rescue us from the suffering that we are unduring. We too want God to act, to do something to prove who He is.

Most of our lives, however, are not spent in trial or suffering. Most of our lives are spent in the normal routine. We work, eat, and sleep. We spend time with family and friends. We pursue the activities that bring us joy. There is also a critical component that affects how we face the times of trial and suffering. Carving out time to read our Bibles, to worship, to spend time in prayer are essential. These day to day rhythms are what connect us to God. They deepen our faith. They build a foundation for when the rains fall and the flood waters rise. Through our faith practices we learn that God will never forsake us, that God will always be there for us. It is in the day to day living out of our faith that we come to know and believe these things. It is through these practices that we come to know that we are a beloved child of God.

If we walk daily and regularly with our God, then we live out verses 5 and 6 from Psalm 71. God is our hope and our confidence. From birth – from new birth in Jesus Christ – we rely on God. Like the psalmist, we too can say, “I will ever praise you”. When we walk daily with Him, then in the good and in the bad, in the joy and in the sorrow, we can ever praise God. Yes, you are my God and I will ever praise you.

Prayer: Lord, may I always seek you – in the quiet of the morning, in the sanctuary, in all times and in all places. Step by step may I follow you, O God. Amen.


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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.


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Step Two

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”.

The early church fascinates me. All they knew was Jesus. They preached about salvation – the blessing that came with entering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They told others about how Jesus changed their lives and offered Him to them so that they too could be born anew. The early church lived out their faith boldly and as a witness to Jesus and His love. They lived out in and with the world, sharing the good news with any and all. In them we can see just how easy it is to share the good news – we just have to tell others what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives, opening their eyes to what Jesus can do in their lives.

The early church learns that some in Samaria have accepted the word of God and were baptized with water. The Spirit had not yet come. So Peter and John are sent to help these new believers through step two. There, in Samaria, “Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It was simply an invitation to go one step further, one step deeper – to not only be baptized into Jesus’ name, but to invite and accept into themselves Jesus’ living presence, the Holy Spirit. This second step brought the relationship with Jesus to fullness.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is still the second necessary step. One can come to understand that Jesus is the way, truth, and life. One can come to know that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. We can share Jesus and people can comprehend that Jesus is the Messiah. All of this is just head knowledge. Until they claim Jesus as their own and invite Him into their heart, to dwell in them, then Jesus is just head knowledge. This second step – inviting Jesus to be a daily presence – is essential. The invitation brings the daily guidance and presence of Jesus into a believer’s heart. Then Jesus becomes king not only of their mind but also if their heart. We can lead people to know who Jesus is and we can share the power He has to change lives, but only that person can invite Jesus into their heart.

Prayer: God, allow others to know Jesus through my life – my words, my actions, my teaching. Allow my witness to draw others closer to you so that they can invite indwelling presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, into their lives, making them fully yours. If I am but one step in their journey to you, thank you for allowing me to play that role too. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Jesus’ Baptisms

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 & 21-22

Verse 16: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”.

Our passage today begins with John the Baptist. He is preaching a baptism of repentance out in the wilderness. There is a certain wildness, an unknown edge to John. His clothing, his lifestyle, the way he challenges both scare and attract us. He calls for and leads people to radical change in their lives. This too attracts and yet scares us. We are drawn to find and live into a better version of ourselves. But at the same time, change is hard and requires us to step into the new and unknown.

John is pointing beyond himself to Jesus. John’s role was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. John speaks of Jesus, saying, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. John’s baptism of water was more a cleansing of sins and a commitment to walk a better faith. But Jesus’ baptism will be different. There is a winnowing fork in Jesus’ hand. This is used to separate the good from the bad, the useful from the unusable. The action of conviction and repentance is taken from our hands and placed into His hands. The baptism of the Holy Spirit leads to a new source of power within us. The Holy Spirit does not rationalize or try and look past sin like we might perhaps try to do.

There is also a gathering up and a burning aspect to today’s Word from John. The good, the useful for the kingdom, will be gathered up into Jesus’ barn – into heaven. The bad, the unusable, the evil, will be burned with an unquenchable fire. It will not be pleasant. This is the fire that Jesus Christ will bring. It is not necessarily anyone’s destiny. Yet some will choose it. Judgment will come to us all. May we each sense the voice of Jesus in the Holy Spirit’s voice, allowing it to guide and lead us to all righteousness. May we daily live a life that honors and brings glory to the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Prayer: O Jesus, may your Holy Spirit ever be present and loud and clear in my life. Guide me to walk in your ways, always seeking to bring you the glory and praise. Amen.


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God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 7: “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”.

Much of the Old Testament covers the when, what, how, and why of the sacrificial system that atoned for sin. Chapter after chapter details this system. In many ways temple sacrifice was a core element of the Jewish faith. Yet, sprinkled here and there in the Old Testament are verses like the one that Jesus quoted from Psalm 40. When an offering or sacrifice became just a motion they were going through, it displeased God. When the same sacrifice was given over and over because the sin was repeated too, it displeased God. The act of atonement had to include repentance in the heart.

At times I have been guilty of this too. I have asked for forgiveness without a full commitment to repent of that sin. I felt guilty enough to confess but not enough to change. I have gone to church or MYF or men’s group because I was supposed to, had a poor attitude the whole time, and left just as empty as when I came. I have helped my neighbor or the stranger I met not because I wanted to or was led to but because it was my “job”. We have all been there (or close to there).

In verse 7 Jesus quotes Psalm 40, saying, “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”. This is reminiscent of Samuel and others who responded faithfully when God called. Samuel and many like him had a heart willing to follow God and His ways. This too was the heart of Jesus. His purpose was to do the will of God. All day, every day. Jesus lived with a heart ever centered on God’s will. It showed in all He did and said. Jesus exemplified obedience and this allowed Him to be God’s love and mercy lived out to the fullest. May we go and be like Jesus, doing God’s will always.

Prayer: Lord, prepare me to be your servant each and every day. Mold me, shape me, refine me to follow Jesus’ way. Help me to become less each day so that my life glorifies you more and more. Amen.