pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Choose to Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a 40-day journey that focuses on self-reflection, fasting, and prayer. The 40 days comes from Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. During Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He focused on these three practices. For Him it was a season of preparation to begin His ministry. Lent is a season of preparation for us. During Lent, the 40 days do not include Sundays – they are holy days set aside for worship. At the end if Lent we arrive on April 21 at Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 58, our passage for today, focuses on fasting and the effect that it should have. To be honest, fasting has become a little-practiced spiritual discipline. Traditionally fasting was a practice that led to prayer, study, and self-reflection. It was also practiced at critical decision points. Esther’s fast in chapter 14, verses 15 and 16, comes to mind. In general terms, abstaining from food should lead one closer to God. The meal time and the periods of hunger would be spent in study and prayer and reflection, drawing one closer to God. The physical hunger reminds one of our spiritual hunger for God. During Lent, some practice a fast and focus on self-reflection, introspection, confession, and repentance. Today many churches will use Psalm 51:10 to begin Lent as ashes are placed on foreheads. It reads, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Today many people chose to fast from an item or habit. People give up chocolate or pop or TV or social media. When the desire for this arises, it leads one to prayer, study, and self-reflection. Others choose to add something during Lent – a Bible study or a daily devotional or guided prayer. The goal is the same: to draw closer to God through self-reflection and repentance. Whatever fast you choose, this remains the goal. Fasting should lead to a positive change of heart and soul. This is what Isaiah is talking about.

Verse 6 opens with this line: “Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen…”. Fasting creates the heart of God in us – a heart filled with compassion for others. A more Christ-like heart leads us to speak up against injustice and for the oppressed and to share our food and shelter and clothing with those in need. It does not allow us to turn away from our brothers and sisters in the world. This is the impact of fasting that is pleasing to God. It leads to a pure heart that loves without conditions. It leads to a steadfast heart that walks out Jesus’ love every day with every person without limits.

Fasting connects us to God. It changes us and makes us more like Him. Then our “light will break forth like the dawn” and “you will call and the Lord will answer”. When we cry out, God will say, “Here I am”. This Lenten season, may we choose to fast, to come closer to the heart of God, to better know and serve our fellow travelers in the world.

Prayer: Lord, in this holy season, may my heart focus in on you and on the changes you seek to make within me. May my fast bring me closer to you and to those I meet in the world. Amen.


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Clothe Yourselves

Reading: Colossians 3: 12-14

Verse 12: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”.

In these quiet and slow days between Christmas and New Years, we can either drift along or we can be anxious about the year to come. In both cases it can be a time when we lose sight of the birth of Jesus that we just celebrated. Today’s passage is a good connection back to the birth story.

Coming into the world as a helpless infant leaves one very vulnerable and dependent on others. When Jesus Christ entered the world, Mary took Him into her arms and wrapped Him securely in swaddling clothes. This replicates the feeling and safety of the womb, bringing comfort to the baby. Mary provided all the Jesus needed to survive and then to thrive. We find a parallel to this in today’s reading.

In Colossians, Paul encourages us to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”. We are to wrap ourselves in these qualities so that we can best survive and thrive in the world. To help us understand what it looks like to live out these five qualities we need look no further than Jesus. Every day He modeled these qualities. It was how God designed us to live. When we follow Jesus and emulate the model He set, then we are living as God desires.

Paul then goes on to encourage us to “bear with one another” and to “forgive as the Lord forgave you”. These two practices acknowledge our imperfections and limitations. We are what we are – the imperfect striving after the perfect. So Paul encourages us to show one another grace and mercy. Our passage ends with Paul’s directive to “put on love” as the thing that covers all of these other qualities and in fact “binds them all together”. Like the swaddling clothes of baby Jesus, when we allow love to be our primary quality, when we allow love to cover all we say and do, then we find comfort, assurance, courage, and strength to live as His witness in the world.

As we go forth into the day ahead, may we be compassionate and kind, gentle and humble, patient and forgiving. And over and before all of these, may we love just as Jesus Christ first loved us. In doing so, we share Jesus with the world.

Prayer: God, in love may I be all these things to those I meet today, bearing witness to your Son, my hope and the hope of the world. Amen.


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Stop, Trust, Believe

Reading: Matthew 6: 25-33

Verse 33: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

“I tell you, do not worry about your life… about what you will eat, drink, wear…”. Jesus is telling us not to worry. This is a bit like Jesus telling us to be obedient – yes, we want to but it can be so hard. He is calling us to walk closely with God.

Jesus gives us two examples that illustrate why we should not worry. God feeds the birds if the air, which are much less valuable than us. God will feed us too. God makes the lillies beautiful, even though they last only a short time. Imagine how much more care goes into clothing us then! Jesus even goes so far as to point out that the pagans chase after these things. The pagans – certainly we are not like them. Alas, we are. We don’t trust that God will provide or we are not content with what God does provide, so we take matters into our own hands and we chase after these things.

Instead of chasing, Jesus invites us to stop. Instead of worrying, Jesus invites us to trust. Instead of wondering about the what-ifs, Jesus says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. Stop, trust, believe – and God will take care of you. All will be given to those who seek God first. Seek first God.

This day, may we rejoice in the many blessings that God has given us as we offer our thanksgivings for them, one by one. May the Lord our God bless you and yours this Thanksgiving!

Prayer: Lord, thank you so much for all the ways that you bless me – my family, my friends, the basic necessities, my church, and most of all you! Thank you Lord! Amen.


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Surrounded by Love

Wrapping the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes was the common practice of the time.  It is still the common practice in many places.  By wrapping the baby head to toe, it is kept warm and its delicate skin in protected.  Being laid in a manger, maybe Jesus even needed a little extra protection.  All one could see of the baby was their little face, gazing up at them.

In the culture of Jesus’ day and in many places still today, at the end of life the body is again wrapped in a cloth.  This time it is called a shroud and it covers all of the body.  The body is wrapped with fragrant spices and laid to rest in a protetcive little coccoon.  The cycle is complete.

Tonight the communion will be covered by a cloth except when being served.  The elements are representative of Jesus’ body and blood, so it is appropriate and respectful to cover them.

In our Christian walk, God’s love continually surrounds us much like the swaddling clothes do a baby.  God wraps His love and protection around us as He walks through the ups, downs, and middles of life with us.  As we walk we will stumble and we will sin.  But God is present then too for His love never fails.  In these moments we also receive His love and grace as well.  They surround us too and make us new and clean and whole.  Through Jesus’ work on the cross, we are forgiven and restored to walk again in God’s loving presence.  Thank you Jesus.

Scripture reference: Luke 2: 1-20