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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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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Invitation

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.

Lent is a season of fasting and self-denial. It is the season when we are invited to look within and to surrender all that keeps us from being fully committed to God. In general, the things of the men, the things that culture values, keep us separated. In today’s passage, Peter is a good example of this. After Jesus tells the disciples that He will soon be rejected and killed, Peter pulls Him aside to protest such a thing happening. Jesus then rebukes Peter, saying to him, “Get behind me Satan”! The future rock of the church is being called Satan. But Jesus goes on. He knows that the human Peter missed the “after three days rise again” part of the story. Sadly Jesus says to him, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”. Peter wanted Jesus to stay with them. He wanted to hold onto the familiar and comfortable. Peter is not alone.

The season of Lent with all of its fasting and self-denial and surrender continues to run counter to our human desires and to our culture and its values. In a culture that preaches “just do it” and “do it if it makes you feel good” the idea of Lent is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is no wonder so many of us struggle with Lent. Ultimately, though, Lent is a season all about grace and holiness. As we look within, God invites us to be more like Jesus. As we look outside of ourselves, God invites live out His grace and love. In these ways, Lent is an invitation not a requirement. It is an invitation to be a better follower, to live out a more holy and faithful life. And, yes, if we accept the invitation, it will bring some discomfort – it is a harder journey.

As God invites us to search within and to step out, we do so with a promise: “I will never leave you”. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we do not search and we do not go alone. In those moments of unfamiliar, the Spirit will guide and lead. In those moments of discomfort, the Spirit speaks words of peace and strength. In those moments when we look within, when it is unsettling, the Spirit speaks words of encouragement and support. Our discomfort, our unease, are invitations into God’s grace and love. They are invitations to draw closer, to walk holier. They are opportunities that allow His grace and love to reshaped us, to transform us. When we choose to focus our minds on the things of God, we are blessed. May this be my choice and your choice throughout this Lenten season. Amen!


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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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Compassionate Love

Reading: Jonah 3: 1-5 & 10

Verse Ten: “He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened”.

Today we pick up the story of Jonah part way through.  Jonah has already been told to go to Nineveh, fled the other direction, been tossed into the sea during a fierce storm, been swallowed by a fish, prayed to God, and was vomited on to dry land.  This is Jonah 1 and 2 in a nutshell.  Our passage today begins with God speaking a second time to Jonah, instructing him to go to the great city of Nineveh to give a message which calls for their repentance.

Nineveh is a great city with over 120,000 residents.  Our passage tells us that it takes three days to visit the city.  We also learn that it is a city of wickedness.  God calls Jonah to go to save the city from destruction.  This is the first indication of God’s compassionate love.  God desires for the city to turn from its evil ways.  God’s compassionate love is also shown to Jonah as God is willing to tell him a second time to go to Nineveh.  God could have let Jonah drown and found another messenger.

Jonah goes to Nineveh and preached, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be over turned”.  The people believe God and a citywide fast is declared by the king.  The people also put on sackcloth as a sign of their repentance.  The king led the people to do this in hope that God would be compassionate and would relent.  In verse ten we read, “He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened”.  God delivered the second chance that He wanted to give the city.  The story does not end here either.  God still has some work to do with Jonah.  Even though God’s purposes for Nineveh have been completed, God still loves Jonah and goes on to show that.

In the continuing work that God does with Jonah we come to see that God not only gives Jonah a second chance, but also a third…  God does not give up on Jonah.  He continues to bring Jonah along, ever shaping him into who he was created to be.  This is a beautiful thing about our God.  He continues to do the same thing for each and every one of us.  In His great love, God works and works and works to help us along our Christian walk.  He never gives up on us.  It is a beautiful thing.  Thanks be to God for His never-ending compassionate love for you and for me.


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Every Day

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-9a

Isaiah opens today’s passage speaking about a people who appear to be in search of God.  They appear to be seeking God and to be eager to draw near to God.  The people are fasting and ask God, ‘have you not seen it’?  Isaiah goes on to explain how the fast they are choosing is far from pleasing to God.  They may be skipping the food, but they are not drawing close to God.  Instead they exploit their workers and quarrel and fight amongst themselves.  Their fast is only lip service to God.

I believe this problem persists to this day.  Some go to church every Sunday morning but are not engaged in worship.  They consider their day or week ahead during the message, they nod off during prayer time.  Even though they were only physically present, they still ask God and others, ‘Didn’t you see me in church’?  Isaiah asked if a fast consisted of only bowing one’s head and wearing sackcloth.  We could ask, is Sunday only for warming a pew and standing and sitting when everyone else does?

Isaiah goes on to describe the fast that is pleasing to God.  It is one that loosens the chains of injustice and unties the cords of the yoke, one that sets the oppressed free, one that feeds the hungry and clothes the naked.  It is a fast that draws one close to God so that one is transformed to be more like God, to be filled with compassion and to be moved to act on behalf of the lost, the least, and the lonely.  It is a fast that takes place in the heart, not upon the lips.

This too must be how we practice our faith.  We cannot preach compassion on Sunday morning and then turn our backs on those in need.  We must be moved to engage those who are struggling and are in need.  We cannot worship God on Sunday morning and then exploit our workers on Monday.  We cannot lift our voices in praise on Sunday and then curse and gossip at the restaurant on Tuesday.  The faith we practice on Sunday and each day as we read our Bibles and say our prayers must be the same faith we live out every moment of every day.  It must be so.  May it be so today and every day.


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Lenten Journey

Lent begins today!!  Lent is a season when we prepare ourselves for celebrating Easter, the day of Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin and death.  It is a season when we go to work so that we are ready to celebrate His victory.  Lent is a season when we look within more often.  We spend time in self-reflection to evaluate our faith.  In this process we repent of all that separates us from or keeps us from being closer to God.  We make sacrifices to draw closer to God.  Some fast to draw closer to God.  All of our practices in Lent must serve to draw us closer to God and to create in us that clean heart that will be acceptable in His sight.

The model we follow for Lent was established by Jesus.  At the beginning of His ministry, after being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness for a period of forty days.  In this time He fasted and prayed in order to prepare Himself for the testing that Satan would bring.  This period of prayer and fasting strengthened His faith and relationship with God so that He could withstand the temptations of the devil.  In our forty day journey to the cross, we too will be tempted.

In Isaiah 58 it speaks of fasting for the wrong reasons and lays out the correct reasons.  In Lent, each practice can be done for impure reasons.  All must be done to better connect to God and to prepare ourselves.  At the start of Lent we must examine our inner being to determine if there are things in our lives we need to repent of and let go.  In this period of self-reflection, sometimes we see that there is something we need to attend to more often as well.  Maybe this entails taking on a special Lenten devotional or prayer study.  Perhaps this means finding one more time to pray during each day.  Maybe it means fasting once a week during Lent.  Whether it is setting something aside or adding a new discipline, this sacrifice must draw us closer to God.

In Lent, as we go to work to draw closer to God, we must also draw closer to our fellow man.  It is an inevitable consequence of drawing closer to God.  As we grow in our love of God, our love of all He loves grows as well.  Isaiah 58 speaks much of loving those in need.  May our light too break forth as we seek to love those in need and to break the chains of oppression.  May we too be pleasing in His sight on our Lenten journeys.

Scripture reference: Isaiah 58: 1-12