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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Call Your Good Friend

Reading: Psalm 91: 2 and 9-16

Verse 14: “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”.

Our Psalm today reminds us of God’s constant presence with us. This Psalm and others like it always draw to my mind the poem, “Footsteps in the Sand”. There are two sets of footprints as a man looks back through most of his life. But in difficult times, he sees just one set of footprints. He asks why God would abandon him when life got hard. God replies that He did not leave the man, but carried him. Thus, one set of footprints. The psalmist speaks of God in this way, calling God our refuge and our fortress.

We will all have times of trial and testing, times when we too feel as if God is not present. It may be the loss of a job, a loved one, or a close friend. It may be caused by an illness or a relationship that is difficult but necessary. We might feel alone, but God is present. We just need to call out to God in prayer. We need to seek God out at times – not to bring God back, but to remind ourselves of God’s constant presence. And God will carry us too if we need that.

No one seeks out bad times or suffering, but both are a part of life. What sustains us most in these moments is the faith we practice in the relatively good days of life. When we walk daily with God, spending time in the Bible, in prayer, in conversation with God, then God feels like a close friend.

When trial or pain strikes, it is more natural to turn to our close friend. From our daily time with God we build a reservoir of faith and trust that we can draw on and from in the moments when life is hard. In the moment of need, it is easier to call upon a close friend. When we do, God is right there, very present to us.

Verse 14 reads, “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”. Yes, God will rescue us and protect us and answer us and deliver us. God loves each of us dearly. Therefore we do not need to be afraid. God is with us. Call upon God, our strength, our refuge, our fortress.

Prayer: Lord, may I know you more and more each day. May each day bring me closer to you. May I be sensitive to the indwelling presence of the Spirit. In the good and the bad, may you be my first call. Amen.


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Endures Forever

Reading: Psalm 138: 4-8

Verse 8: “The Lord will fulfill His purposes for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands”.

The psalmist begins our passage for today asking for all the kings of the earth to praise the Lord. He goes on to ask that they sing of the ways of the Lord. These are things that David did faithfully. David walked and ruled in faith and knows the value of other kings doing likewise.

It is not by coincidence that David next turns to remind us that God looks upon and knows the lowly. By contrast, the Lord chooses to remain far from the proud. Jesus’ ministry echoes this idea too. He certainly practiced this way of life. Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, hung out with the poor and marginalized, healed the shunned and outcasts. By contrast, Jesus did not spend much time with the proud – the wealthy, the Romans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees…

Throughout his lifetime, David learned that there was reward in walking with God. In verse 7 David speaks of how in times of trouble, “you preserve my life”, and of how “with your right hand you saved me”. Throughout his lifetime David experienced God rescuing and redeeming him. Each of these experiences helped David’s faith grow and deepen.

Because of the conscious choices to not be proud and to walk daily with God, David could own verse 8. He writes, “The Lord will fulfill His purposes for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands”. God anointed David as a young shepherd boy and then proceeded to fulfill that purpose for David. Even when David succumbed to great sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, God did not abandon him. Instead, that “love that endures forever” reached out through Nathan and drew David back into walking with the Lord.

Just as God did with David, God has plans for you and for me. Sometimes we don’t make choices or decisions that align with God’s plans. Sometimes we sin and separate ourselves from God for a time. Yet that love that endures forever always seeks to engage us, to draw us back in, to get us back on the path that God has for us.

Jesus also ministered to people with the same purpose. The healings brought people back into the community of faith. The teachings sought to create or renew a relationship with God. The times He said “go and sin no more” returned people to living as God intended them to live. All of these things were done in that same enduring love. We too know this love. We too have experienced this love. We are called to model this love and to share this love as we spread the good news of Jesus Christ. In doing so, others will come to know of God’s love that endures forever. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may I too humbly serve you, spreading your love abroad, drawing others to you. Amen.


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God Claims Us

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

Verses 21-22: “Jesus was baptized too… the Holy Spirit descended… a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son'”.

Jesus comes to John the Baptist to be baptized. It is what John does. John calls people to repent of their sins to prepare their lives for the coming of the Messiah. In our text today we have Jesus, the only one to live a life without sin, coming to be baptized. His baptism is also a preparation. Earlier in our text today John indicated that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. You have to have what you want to give away. After His baptism, the Spirit descends upon Jesus and God pronounces, “You are my Son”.

These are important words for Jesus to hear. From the Jordan River Jesus will go out into the wilderness for forty days. Jesus will need these words and the presence of the Holy Spirit as He is tested over and over by the devil. The echoes of “You are my Son” we’re important reminders for Jesus during these forty days. Over and over Satan will ask, “If you are the Son of God…”. Satan tested Jesus to see if He really was ready to be the Son of God.

In Jesus’ baptism and in our baptism, there is a closeness to God that we begin to experience. We too receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we enter into the family of God at our baptism. In baptism, we are marked as a son or daughter of God. Based on that, it should come as no surprise that we too are tempted and tested with our own times in the wilderness. We face trial and temptation in our lives. It is Satan’s way of asking us the same question:. If you are a son of God… If you are a daughter of God… When we hear the voice of the great deceiver, may we too quickly the voice of God, claiming us as a daughter or as a son. God loves us. Over and over God says, “You are my daughter”, “You are my son”. May we claim this always. Draw near to God. Satan will flee.

Prayer: Precious God, thank you for claiming me as your child at my baptism. Daily remind me of my personal connection through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Surrender

Reading: Psalm 29

Verses 1 and 2: “Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength… worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness”.

In the Psalm we get a sense of God’s wildness in nature. God’s voice is the thunder that rolls over the waters and earth, that shatters the cedars. God’s voice is the lightning that shakes the desert and strips the forest bare. There is power in God’s voice and it feels a bit wild because we cannot control it.

Even though we cannot control the forces of nature and even though it feels a bit wild, there is also a power and glory that draws us in. I love to listen to the rolling thunder and to marvel at the flashes of lightning during a thunderstorm. In truth, I even like to sit outside to better feel the power. The thunder and lightning scream God to me. I cannot control it, but I know the One who does. In those moments that become sacred I join the psalmist as I too “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength… worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness”. In the storm I see God’s glory and strength and am led to worship.

The overall theme this week is baptism. Baptism can also reveal God’s glory and strength. It can draw us into God’s holiness and to a place of worship. But it can also be a bit wild. The Holy Spirit is a part of our baptism. Baptism is an incorporation into the family of God and into the indwelling presence of the Spirit. If we are open to and if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives, then it can get a bit wild. We can find ourselves in places and with people that are unknown and uncomfortable to us. Yet if we trust in the fact that God is in control, then we become an instrument of God as we serve the stranger and the other. It is through and in these experiences that we can meet and worship the Lord.

When we trust God, when we release our lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then we really experience verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”. May we each surrender to God today, living out the faith that we have, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking to be His hands and feet for a world in need. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, you are my all in all. Help me to trust and serve you with all that I am. Amen.


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Let Us…

Reading: Hebrews 10: 19-25

Verse 21: “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God…”

Jesus opened the way for us – “a new and living way” – to enter into God’s presence. No longer is access limited to the one person chosen by lot to enter on everyone else’s behalf. “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God…” All who call on Jesus Christ as Lord can enter into God’s presence through Jesus.

In today’s reading there are four “Let us…” statements that are responses to the access provided by Jesus, our great high priest. They begin with “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart”. With an assurance that we are cleansed from our sins, we draw close to God. The second is “let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess”. We hold fast because God, the one who made the promise, is always faithful. The covenant to be our God and to always love us is neverending. We hold fast to our faith because we have the promise of God’s presence and love.

The third statement is “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”. We begin by loving each other as Jesus first loved us. In this model, we will be people who go out and love others. Our good deeds are the vehicle to express that love. The fourth statement goes along with the third. “Let us encourage one another”. We do so by meeting together regularly – not just for Sunday morning worship but also for Bible study and prayer, for food and fellowship, and one on one to mentor and support.

These four statements are great reminders to us that we are in this together. They were given to a people living under pressure in an increasingly pagan world. This sounds familiar. In our post-Christian world, this day and each day may we cling to these “Let us…” statements. Amen.

Prayer: Lord God, today remind me of your promises and your love. Lead me to draw close in true faith, assured of your love. Help me to meet with and to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ so that we may encourage one another to be your hands and feet, your salt and light in a lost and hurting world. May it be so this day and every day. Amen.


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Humble Submission

Reading: James 4: 7-8a

Verse 8a: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”.

In our short one and a half verses, James gives us three pieces of advice. In James 4 he has just finished quoting Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. When we are proud and allow pride to guide our words and thoughts, then we have trouble with today’s advice.

Most Christians are rule followers. In general. Sometimes we follow the rules because of circumstances. For example, in my old truck I do not drive 80 miles per hour on the interstate. 80 is the rule. I could physically drive 80 and the truck can too, but the gas mileage plummets and I am cheap. Most of the time, though, I do follow the rules because it is simply the right thing to do.

Sometimes rules do not make sense or we know they are wrong. In the cases when the rule does not make sense, we struggle to follow it. But when the rules are wrong, as Christians, we must take a stand. Such was the case back in the 1960s, when rules excluded or denied or segregated based on race. These rules were broken by and protested against by people, bringing reform to a bad system. Although it is sometimes long and hard, what is right usually wins out in the end.

Today, James is advising us to follow a rule that is both good for us and is in alignment with our faith. James says to submit to God. Tying in the verse from Proverbs, we are to humbly submit to God. Yes, it is good and right to do so. No, we cannot argue or protest against this rule. Yet at times we struggle to follow it. The devil is always at work, trying to tempt us. It is precisely then that we must over God. When we obey God, we are resisting the devil. When we obey God, the devil flees. And then we receive the promise: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”. Come to God and He’ll come to you. Draw near and rest in His presence. Connect with God and live in His light and love. How could life be any better?

O Lord, my God, in humble submission I draw near to you. In awe, I come into your presence. It is a good place to be. Fill me up with your love and grace and mercy and compassion. Fill me to overflowing, so that you can flow out of me and into the lives of those I meet today. Amen.