pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Shining Light

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 3-6

Verse Five: “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord”.

Paul knows the light of Christ in his life. He first experienced it on the road to Damascus where he came to know the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. When Paul speaks of the gospel being veiled and of God blinding the unbelievers, Paul has firsthand knowledge. Through his encounter with Jesus on that road, Paul came to see the light of the gospel and to know Jesus as his Lord. His passion becomes sharing Jesus with the world so that they too can have what he has.

Paul reminds the Corinthians, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord”. Paul wants to be sure the people are drawn to Jesus and not to them or their preaching. It can be easy to be drawn to a great speaker, so Paul wants to keep his audience focused in on Jesus and the gospel. To help them do this, Paul wants them to see the light of Christ that is in their hearts. To begin, Paul recalls God’s words in the Genesis 1 account, “Let light shine out of darkness”. Paul understands that because they were all created in God’s image, they all have the light in their hearts. It is this God-given light that can ultimately allow all human beings to see the true light of Jesus Christ.

The light that Paul has in his heart is the light that he wants all believers to feel in their hearts. The love of Christ is the light in Paul’s heart and he wants all of the people in the church to see the light in their hearts and to understand it as the love of Christ as well. For them and for us, once we start to sense this light and love in our hearts, it is something that begins to draw us in and eventually to grow as we come to know and trust and have faith in Christ. As our relationship with Jesus deepens, that light begins to shine out into the darkness of the world around us. It is then that we come full circle in our scripture. As our light shines, we begin to help lift the veils that were over the eyes of the unbelievers, drawing them in and helping them to see the light in their own hearts. May we fully trust in Christ, shining the light whenever and wherever we can today.


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Testify to the Light

Reading: John 1: 1-8 and 19-21

Verse Eight: “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light”.

Today’s passage is about what is and what is not.  John begins by establishing just who Jesus is.  John draws on Genesis imagery to remind us that Jesus was there in the beginning and that He was with God.  He reminds us that all things were created through Jesus.  And, lastly, John reminds us that Jesus is the light that shines into the darkness.  This is an ongoing reality that many in the world struggle with today.

John’s Gospel then turns to John the Baptist and who he is.  John the Baptist is first a man sent by God.  He came as a witness to the coming of Jesus in the flesh.  Our passage defines John’s role this way: “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light”.  John the Baptist is not the light; he is the witness to call people to the Light or to Jesus.

Sometimes is is easier to describe or understand who we are not.  This is usually a much longer list than the one that attempts to define who we are.  As the priests and Levites that have been sent by the Pharisees begin to question who John the Baptist is, he begins with the most important who He is not: he is not the Christ (or the Messiah).  They press on.  No, he is not Elijah.  No, he is not the Prophet.  Despite telling them who he is, John the Baptist is still pressed for more detail.  He is the witness to the light that is coming into the world.

Who John the Baptist is should sound familiar to us because this is the role that we are called to play.  The Light himself spelled this out for us in the Great Commission: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  We too are called to testify to the light that has come into the world and that continues to shine into the darkness.  We are not John the Baptist and we are not Elijah ad we are not some other great prophet.  We are simply followers of Christ called to share the good news of what Jesus has done in our lives so that the Light can shine into other people’s darkness, helping them to begin to walk in the Light.


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Coming Soon

Reading: Mark 13: 24-31

Verse 28: “You know that it is near, right at the door”.

At first glance, today’s text seems odd for Advent, the season where we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  The sun being darkened, the stars falling, and the heavens quaking don’t quite have that Christmas vibe.  But if we dig a little deeper, the reading makes sense.  There are signs all around that the world is more ready than ever for what this passage speaks of.  Each year we can look back and think the world is more ready than ever for Jesus to return and make all things new.

If we dig down into the core of why Jesus came, we find our answer in the fullness of God’s love: for God so loved the world…  Because God looked down and saw His children living in darkness and sin, He sent Jesus.  We remember too that Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it.  God looked down upon a world dead in its sin and did something about it.  Today many people still live in darkness and the only true, lasting light remains Jesus.  As we await the return that today’s passage speaks of, we do so following our call to bring the light and love of Jesus to all people and to all nations.  This call is a great reason for us to celebrate the birth and life that brought hope and love to a world in great need.

We wait, though, in a tension.  Verse 28 speaks of this tension: “You know that it is near, right at the door”.  Just as the fig tree shows signs and calls people to anticipate summer, so too are we to live with the sense that Jesus is coming soon.  Soon is a good place to be.  When we live with a sense of Jesus coming soon, we live with a faith that is active and alive.  We live with a faith that matters today in the present.  We live with a faith that seeks to share the hope and love of Jesus with all we meet.  We live with a faith that is full of promise and expectation.  As we live out a “coming soon” faith, may we live so that others may sense that Jesus is right at the door of their hearts too, seeking to come in.


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Are We Willing?

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.

Ezekiel is writing to a people who are discouraged and downtrodden.  They feel like the sheep he is describing who are lean, weak, and driven away.  The Israelites have been in exile for many years.  The years have separated them from each other and many of them from their faith.  Even those who did not go into exile have become mixed in with the people living around them.  Ezekiel looks at the people and sees their deep need for a shepherd to rise up who will gather the scattered flock, protecting the weak and poor among them while ruling with justice, compassion, and love.

The need for a good shepherd is very real today.  On a personal level, we need one to walk the walk of faith.  Our inner bent towards sin is in almost constant need of the voice of the good shepherd to guide is on the right path and to keep us from wandering off of the narrow way.  We also need the good shepherd to lead us where we should go at times – to those green pastures.  As we follow Jesus and His teachings and example, we are following the one true good shepherd.  As we follow, we in turn open ourselves up more and more to the voice of the good shepherd as we feel the nudges and hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

This voice calls us to the least and the lost.  It calls us to those who do not know the good shepherd.  The lost are wandering around in the darkness, going from one thing to another, never finding what they truly need.  Others are marginalized and struggle in the simple day to day of life.  The Holy Spirit calls us to them as well.  The least often cannot begin to hear the voice of the good shepherd calling out to them until their basic needs are met.  The need for shelter, food, and safety must be met before there is space for the good shepherd to speak into their lives.

The Good Shepherd says, “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.  He says this to us in our times of need and encouragement.  He calls us to help bring this message to those who are hurting and broken and lost and discouraged.  Are we willing?


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Light

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 1-11

Verses 5 and 6: “You are all sons of the light… let us be alert and self-controlled.”

The Thessalonians are awaiting the return of Christ.  It has been twenty years and they are beginning to wonder.  They wonder about whether or not He is coming in their lifetimes and they wonder about their loved ones who are dying in the interim.  The anticipation of Christ’s return has begun to fade for some of the Thessalonians.  As Christians today we should be looking forward to Christ’s return too, but praying for Jesus to return today is not at the start of most of our prayer times.  For the most part, we live with the attitude that Christ could return today, but we do not live like He is returning today.

Paul’s words to the Thessalonians applies very much to Christians living in 2017.  The world is full of darkness and there are many who will face destruction and who will not escape.  They will be surprised when Jesus comes “like a thief in the night”.  Paul reminds us that we are all “sons of the light” and that we belong to Christ, who is our light.  Therefore, Paul says we should be “alert and self-controlled” as we live out our daily lives.  There is the implication then that we will not be surprised when Jesus returns (or when we go to meet Him).

Paul goes on to write about how we are to live our daily lives as children of the light.  He first says to put on faith and love as a breastplate.  The breastplate protects the heart.  If we begin each day by covering our heart with faith and love, then faith and love will be what guides our thoughts, words, and actions.  Paul then says to put on the hope of salvation like a helmet.  By doing so, we have the promise and hope of salvation right on the top of our minds, allowing that reassurance to be with us in all we do.

This day may we allow faith, hope, and love to be what others see as we live a s a child of the light.  May we shine brightly into the darkness of the world this day, bringing our God and King to all we encounter this day.


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Light

Reading: Matthew 5: 13-16

Upon entering the old gold mining shaft, it seems like the old coffee can lanterns are just not very bright.  But as we proceed and our eyes adjust to the darkness of the cave, those little candles seem awfully bright.  Usually when we get to the small room at the end of the main tunnel, we have a short devotional and then blow out all the candles.  In that moment it is absolutely dark.  After a short prayer, we relight one candle.  It seems so bright.  As we pass the light from one lantern to the next, the small room becomes brightly illuminated.

Jesus’ words today speak of us being a light in the darkness.  We need to be a light because, in the world, there is much darkness.  Satan created much darkness in people’s lives.  Through the lies and deceptions Satan tricks and leads many into sin.  Jesus calls us to be the light that shines into this darkness in people’s lives.  Just as the small candle lit up that room in the cave, the light of Christ within us can expose what lingers in the dark.  Sometimes the light is a relief as it spreads and casts out the darkness.  Sometimes the light is very bright at first and causes one to recoil – just like that one candle that was relit after the time in darkness.  But gradually the light is welcomed as the love of Christ begins to work in their heart.

The light we bring is so often what one living in darkness so desires.  When one feels stuck or lost in life and does not know where to turn or how to even get moving, the light can guide their path as the Holy Spirit gets ahold of them.  When one is mired in the pain or loss or grief that life has brought, the light brings warmth and hope in the arms of the great Comforter.  When one is trapped in addiction or some other situation, the light reveals the first steps of recovery as the loving Healer touches their life.  When one cannot see past their doubt or feelings of unworthiness, the light of the compassionate Redeemer takes them by the hand and pours in love and value as a child of God.

We are children of the Light.  “Let your light shine before all men so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”.  Be the light today!