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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Speak

Reading: 1 Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse One: “In those days, the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions”.

As Eli aged the word of the Lord was not often heard.  Eli had chosen to ignore the immoral actions of his sons in the temple, thereby allowing them to continue to sin against God.  Ultimately God will not forget – there will be a consequence to pay for their actions.  I wonder if this is how God looks at us and at our world from time to time.  As a whole, Christianity is not the voice that rises up against obvious wrongs or injustices.  Does God think we too often sit silent when we should speak?

It can be difficult to speak out, especially when it seems to go against the norm or the popular or accepted thought of the day.  Even within our communities of faith, it can be difficult to hold one another accountable without seeming like we are being judgmental.  But if we are open to it and seek to hear what God is saying to us, like Samuel, we too can receive guidance and instruction from the Lord.

All it takes for God to speak is one receptive ear.  Our passage today tells us, “In those days, the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions”.  Eli had turned a deaf ear to the messages about his sons.  So God turned to Samuel.  But Samuel was young and Eli was still seen as the prophet of God.  It took a few times, but Eli did realize that God was calling out to Samuel.  Eli must have realized that this signaled a changing of the guard as well.  Perhaps this is why Eli pushes Samuel to tell him what God revealed to him.  Eli appears to know that the bad news pertains to him and his household.

How receptive are we to the voice of God in our lives?  Do we create time and space for His voice to be heard?  Do we try and discern if God is speaking into our life or into a situation in our life or in our world?  God desires to be active and involved in our lives.  May we be receptive to our God and His word.  Like Samuel, may we too say, “Speak, for your servant is listening”.


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Love Well

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verse Seven: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son [a daughter]; and since you are a son [a daughter], God has made you also an heir”.

When? “…when the time had fully come”.  It happened when the time was just right for what the world needed, a time that could only be known by God.  What?  “…God sent His Son”.  Only Jesus could do what needed done.  Only One sent from God’s side could take on flesh and dwell among us.  Why? “…to redeem those under the law”.  In offering himself as the perfect sacrifice, Jesus poured out His blood to redeem us from our sins that are made known through the law of God.  How? “…God sent the Spirit of the Son into our hearts”.  Because the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, we are aware of when we sin and are led to repent and seek God’s forgiveness.

Jesus came once for all.  It is through the new covenant of His blood that all can be saved.  It is a covenant based on love that is without limits and without price.  It is a covenant that will wrap any and all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in grace.  It seems an offer too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Some people feel this way.  Because of the choices they have made or because of the circumstances they found themselves in or because of the abuse or injustices they faced – some feel this offer isn’t really for them.  They feel unworthy or too far outside of God’s love and grace.  To these, may we be the love and light of Christ.  To those who feel outside of God’s love, may our witness to God’s love bring them closer to God’s love.  Sometimes it is easier to accept love from a fellow human being than it is from an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect God.  So may we be the ones to first offer love and grace to those who feel outside of His love.  In doing so, they too will one day come to see the live we offer as God’s love.  Then they will begin to live into verse seven: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son [a daughter]; and since you are a son [a daughter], God has made you also an heir”.  All need to experience God’s love and to know that they also belong to the family of God.  Christ came once for all.  May we live well today.


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A Voice

Reading: Mark 1: 1-6

Verse Two: “I will send my messenger ahead of you… to prepare the way”.

Mark quotes Isaiah to open up his “gospel about Jesus Christ, Son of God”.  This quote from Isaiah 40 is the the Israelites what John 3:16 is to Christians.  It is a very well-known verse to Mark’s audience.  Through hundreds of years of various oppression, exiles, and other trials, the Israelites have clung to the promise of a Messiah.  To the Israelites, the prophets have always been bearers of God’s word.  So when John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, proclaiming that the Messiah is near, people flock out to see and hear him.  John is a one-man faith revival, much like Elijah and the other great prophets who came before him.  Why do people – “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” – come out to see John?  Because he speaks words of hope and restoration.

In times of suffering and oppression, when one rises up to speak words of hope and restoration, they tend to draw a crowd, people tend to listen.  In more recent times this has happened with Gandhi in India, with Mandela in South Africa, and with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States.  These men spoke words of hope and restoration.  They gave the oppressed a voice that brought hope.  In our nation, Martin Luther King, Jr., brought a voice of hope coupled with compassion, peace, and, above all else, faith.  He sought to bring hope and to bring equality to a people who faced injustices and segregation.  His words of hope, strengthened by faith in God, brought great change to our nation.

Mark writes of one who will bring even greater change than this.  Mark writes of Jesus Christ, the One who will bring hope and love and compassion and peace to all peoples of all nations.  But w are getting a but ahead of ourselves.  Today we have John, the voice who called folks to repentance, preparing them for the One who is to come.  Today, many are out there in the “wilderness”, longing for hope and restoration.  Can we raise up our voices as followers of Jesus Christ, calling people to make straight their paths, to prepare their hearts for the One who is coming?  May we be loud and clear as we invite others to come and know this Jesus, the Savior and Messiah, the hope and restorer of the world.


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By What Authority

Reading: Matthew 21: 23-27

Verse 23: By what authority are you doing these things?

Over the course of his three years in ministry, Jesus has built up a reputation as a great teacher, as a healer, and as a man of both the people and of God.  He has loved and welcomed one and all – saints and sinners alike.  The priests and elders have observed all of this and seem to have come to a point of decision.  They asks Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things”?  In their minds they were hoping for an answer that would allow them to easily dismiss Jesus and His teachings.  What they got was an invitation to delve in deeper.  But that would mean change.

Today there is no shortage of need for clarification.  Turn on the television or scroll through your Facebook feed and there are lots of controversies and arguments and sad situations and tragedies out there.  In too many cases, though, it seems to me as if we like to get caught up in the argument or the controversy instead of delving down to the heart of the matter.  Why?  Because it is easier, it requires less of us.  But God expects more.

As Christians we cannot retreat from the issues of our time.  We must stand and be the voice of justice and love and community.  The issues surrounding the flag controversy have deep roots – both in social justice and equality and in the respectful and loving use of power and position.  The issues surrounding any other controversy – the LGBT community, the hate groups, the poverty of our reservation, you name it – also call for justice and equality and respect and love.  But these are not the only things required.  We must also wrestle with the same question: “By what authority are you doing these things”?

Our authority must come from and rest in God and His Word.  As Christians, we must be willing to engage the issues and controversies of our time at the deepest levels.  We cannot answer our call to bring the kingdom here to earth if we allow hate and injustice and prejudice… to exist in any form.  In engaging the world may we live into Paul’s words: “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love”.


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Love and Justice and Mercy

Reading: Genesis 37: 1-4 and 12-28

Verse Four: They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Joseph is clearly the father’s favorite.  Israel loves Joseph more than any of his other sons.  In today’s passage, Israel makes Joseph a “richly ornamented robe”.  For a second, recall Joseph and his dreams of his brothers and even his father and mother bowing down to him.  For a second, recall Joseph’s penchant for tattling on his brothers.  Now Joseph waltzes in, showing off his new coat.  Joseph certainly plays up his favored son status.  His brother’s reaction?  “They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him”.

Later in our passage, Israel decides to send Joseph out to check on the others sons and the flocks.  He tells Joseph to “bring word back to me”.  As the brothers see Joseph coming, they plot to kill him.  In our society today, does this still happen?  Do some who live without look at those who have much with hatred and envy?  Thanks without may desire to do away with the ones with privilege and power, especially the ones who flaunt it.  So, when we go to the city to serve in the rescue mission, do those in line look at us this way?  If we act as if we are stooping down to do something ‘good’ or if we act aloof, certainly we are seen this way.  If we are unwilling to sit and hear another’s story, to communicate that they are worthy of our time and attention, then we remain distant and privileged.

Reuben speaks up for Joseph and plans to come back later to rescue him.  When violence and injustice and hatred arise today, do we act as Reuben acted?  Do we try and lessen it and plan on coming back later to partially address the situation?  Or do we stand up for what is righteous and choose to stand in the gap, saying ‘no more’?  At times we will see prejudice or hatred, injustice or abuse.  Then and there, do we addresd it fully?  Do we stand for those in need of our voice and courage?  Do we love and care for all as God loves and cares for all?  Or do we leave them in the cistern and hope to come back later?

O God of love and justice and mercy, make me an instrument of Your love and justice and mercy.


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Pleasing God

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verses 8 and 10 – Live as children of the light… and find out what pleases God.

Paul opens this passage with a statement that is true at times: “you were once darkness”.  Before accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we were in darkness.  Once we accept Christ as Lord of our life, we live in the light.  But I don’t think we are ever fully free from the darkness.  We do not dwell there, but we visit from time to time.  We all have moments when the light does not shine, moments or even seasons, when we say or do things that are definitely not holy or godly.  The light within us rises up and shines and brings conviction as our sins are exposed and become visible.  This leads to repentance and a return to living in the light.  Living as children of the light is a daily effort.  It is only through the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit that we begin to have a chance.  Coupled with the support, love, grace, encouragement, accountability… from our communities of faith, we can live a life as a child of God – pleasing God and bringing glory and honor to His name.

What can one do to please God?  First, it begins with our individual lives being pleasing to God.  This means honoring the two great commandments: love God with all we are and love neighbor as Christ first loved us.  It means being Jesus’ hands and feet, it means being a servant to all, it means placing the needs of others above our own needs.  Second, we shine the light out into the world.  We allow others to see Christ’s love in us.  They experience and meet Jesus Christ through us.  This draws others in to His love.  At times, the light will shine into other’s darkness.  In these moments, we cannot turn away.  Sometimes the darkness that gets exposed is in those we meet.  It is scary to step out of the dark.  As children of the light, we must take their hand and guide them on their journey of faith.  And sometimes the light shines on injustice or poverty or prejudice or oppression or …  We cannot turn away from these either.  As children of God, we must stand against all forms of evil and darkness.  We must be present here too, always working to advance God’s kingdom here on earth.

This day and every day, may we”live as children of the light”, bringing God all the honor and glory that He is due.