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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Pleasing Words & Thoughts

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 11: “By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”.

Psalm 19 was a song that the people sang in worship or when preparing for worship. It begins with praise for the handiwork of God that we can see in creation. This first section reminds us of both God’s might and power and the perfection of creation. Then the psalmist transitions to God’s law and precepts. Again we take in hints of completeness and perfection. The Law is perfect and trustworthy and right and radiant and sure and precious and sweet. It brings joy to the heart and light to the eyes. Creation and the Law can be seen as parallel works of God’s mighty hand. The Law section ends with this line: “By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”. How true!

The Psalm is also realistic. In verses 12 and 13, there is an acknowledgement that we are human and, therefore, will struggle with the Law. We each have our hidden faults. There will be times when they lead us into sin. By our nature we are attracted to the things of this world. The psalmist asks for both forgiveness and for God to keep him from “willful sins”. These are the ones that we consider and mull over and still fall into despite knowing they are sin. Only with God’s help can one stand against the temptations of this world.

Why do we praise God for the work of His hand in all of creation? Why do we meditate on the Word of God on a regular basis? So that we can live into the wonderful line that concludes this great Psalm. So that our words and thoughts are pleasing to our God. May they be so for you and for me.

Prayer: O Lord my God, help my eyes to see your hand at work in and around me. Make me sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit so that your Word is ever before me. Keep me closely connected to you so that my life is a fragrant offering to you, one that is pleasing in your sight. Amen.


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Pleasing

Reading: Psalm 19:14

Verse 14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer”.

These words are familiar words. The sermon or message in many churches, mine included, begins with these words. These words ask God to be present in and through the Word proclaimed and to guide our thoughts and responses to the message given. It is a prayer for both the pastor and the congregation. I love how this prayer closes with the dual reminder that the Lord is our foundation and our mercy – our guide through life and our help when we get astray.

Many of us walk out the doors of worship on Sunday morning and return to the world and its ways almost immediately – cussing the one who cut us off in traffic or being rude to the waiter. Some if us might manage to make it to Monday morning before the world creeps back in. At work or school we gossip about the weekend or we resume the shady, worldly business or study practices that we felt convicted of just the day before. We find there is no shortage of ways that we can be displeasing to the Lord. The world is always providing opportunities or encouragement to do so. The battle is constant.

But so is God’s love. And His mercies are new every morning. And His grace is unending. The world is where we now dwell, so the lures of this world will be there. But Jesus had overcome the world. Through faith in Him, we too can walk in the light. Just as Sunday morning is that little boost to our faith and walk, so too can be our own daily time with God. When we read and study and meditate on God’s Word daily, He becomes more a part of our lives. When we spend time each day talking with God, our prayers strengthen our faith. When we open ourselves to the guide and direction of the Holy Spirit, our faith grows stronger still. When we choose to be faithful to our daily disciplines – time in the Word, time in prayer, time connected to the Holy Spirit – our walk with the Lord is closer. We find that we grow more and more into today’s verse. More and more often our words of our mouth and the thoughts of our hearts are pleasing to God. More and more the Lord is our Rock and Redeemer. May we each stay deeply in love with God, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, this moment and every moment, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Psalm 19: 7-14

Verse 11: “By keeping them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward”.

Verses 7-10 tell of God’s laws, statutes, precepts, and commands. These guide believers in how to live our lives pleasing God. In turn, our lives are better as well. To me, this is the basis of our relationship with God. In reality, all of our relationships are built upon a set of rules or guidelines or understandings. Sometimes these are not written down but are implied or simply understood.

In our earthly relationships, the value of keeping the relationship on good terms has temporal worth. In my most important earthly relationship the phrase “happy wife, happy life” applies in many ways. When my relationships with my wife, kids, boss, congregation, clients, … are good, then all are happy and life is rewarding and blessed. In our heavenly relationship, it is much the same. The psalmist writes, “By keeping them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward”. God’s laws, statutes, precepts, and commands keep us out of trouble and out of toxic situations and are also the path to a rewarding and blessed relationship with God.

In the next few verses, there is an admission that to live in a relationship that is pleasing to God is one that requires help from God. For us, the Holy Spirit augments our efforts to know God by reminding us, by directing us, by convicting us when necessary. The Holy Spirit helps us maintain a good relationship with God.

When all of this is humming along, we can pray verse 14 with confidence. It is a verse that I quote just before preaching. I guess it is more of a request and a hope. As I reflect on it this morning, it occurs to me that it should be a part of my morning prayers every day too. May it be so.

Lord God, your ways are perfect and trustworthy. They bring me joy and life. Remind me if them often so that life is both blessed and is pleasing in your sight. My rock and my redeemer, thank you for your steadfast love, your unwavering understanding, and your endless grace. I love you God! Amen.


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Living Wisely

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-17

Verses 15… 17: “Live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity… understanding what the Lord’s will is”.

Today’s words about living wisely fit well with yesterday’s words from Psalm 111 concerning wisdom. Today’s focus is not so much on gaining God’s wisdom but on applying it to our lives. A summary of today’s passage reads, “Live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity… understanding what the Lord’s will is”. Paul’s basic admonition is to live wisely. To me, this begins with choosing well. Usually most decisions we make have a pause point where we consider our options. Second bowl of ice cream or not? Give her a second glance? Say the sarcastic comment? “Forget” to report that income? Help with that event next weekend? Life is full of moments when we come to that point. Paul’s advice is to choose well. That means choosing according to the good and pleasing will of God.

The second hurdle is making the most of every opportunity. What does it look like to “make the most”? It means going above and beyond. It means going a little deeper. It means not just giving the needy mom some formula and diapers, but also talking with her to see how we might help improve her situation, to see how our community of faith might surround and walk with her. It means saying “yes” to the whispers and nudges of the Holy Spirit.

When we choose wisely and according to the leading of the Holy Spirit, I think we are closing in on Paul’s third encouragement: understanding the will of God. When we choose to follow, we naturally gain understanding of God’s plan. Choosing not to sin or choosing to live life closely with another both connect us to God and deepen our understanding of how to best live out our faith. In doing so we also help others to understand who and what God is like and to see how faith could make a difference in their lives too.

Each day may we choose to live wisely in alignment with God’s will and purpose for each of us. May it be so to bring glory to God and to build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Pleasing

Reading: 2 Corinthians 5: 6-10

Verses Nine and Ten: “We make it our goal to please Him… for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”.

Paul would definitely choose to be “away from the body” and to be with Christ. His life has been one of both fruitful ministry and of trials and sufferings for his faith. He has not quite written the “fought the good fight” passage, but his longing to be with the Lord is growing. Paul looks to the time when he will stand before Jesus and will enter His rest. Yet Paul also knows that he has a purpose to fulfill now.

In our passage today, Paul refers to the idea of living by faith and not by sight. God is not something or someone we can physically touch or see, yet we live within God’s presence. It is something we can feel. God touches and moves within our hearts and minds, assuring us of our faith. While faith cannot be proven or seen or otherwise quantified, our experiences with Jesus and the Holy Spirit are very real in the life of a believer. It is by faith that we live our daily lives. Paul writes, “We make it our goal to please Him”. While in this body, this too is our goal – to live a life worthy of the gospel, one that is holy and pleasing to the Lord.

Paul closes this thought with: “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”. This is a reality for all people, believers and non-believers alike. One day we will all appear before the Lord. How we have lived while in the body does matter. Each day may we do what is pleasing to God, like Paul, looking forward to the day when we go to be with the Lord. Amen.


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Thoughts

Reading: Mark 8: 31-34

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Today’s text begins with Jesus teaching the disciples about the end of His time with them. This scene reminds me of visits to hospice or the hospital with people who are assuredly ready to come face to face with their creator. These thoughts bring peace and strength to their loved ones. They are positively focused on what Peter is struggling with. But not everyone is ready to say goodbye. Sometimes we do not want to let people go. Selfishly we want more time, even if just a day or two. This is where the very human Peter is coming from. His time with Jesus has radically changed his life and he does not want to even begin to think about it ending.

This thought is what led Peter to rebuke Jesus. The thought focused inward and was selfish. Jesus’ response is sharp and to the point: focus your mind on the things of God! It is where all of our thoughts should begin. A few years ago the WWJD wristbands and t-shirts led us to first think of Jesus in all situations. This is essentially the point of today’s passage. When Jesus goes on to say, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”, He is really saying to do as He does. Notice that Jesus’ statement begins with our thoughts as well. Denying self is an action we take within.

This is a wonderful passage for the season of Lent. This season is a time to look inward and to lay aside all that keeps our focus off of our relationship with Jesus. The things that distract us or lure us away or get between us and Jesus all begin with our thoughts. It can be something that is bright and shiny that we come to long for or it can be the person who so easily gets under our skin, leading us to being judgemental or critical. But if we first keep our thoughts focused on the ‘things of God’ and what pleases Him, then we will indeed take up our cross daily as we follow Jesus. Before we do or say anything, may our thoughts be holy and pleasing in God’s sight. Amen.