pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Race

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-14

Verse 12a: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect…”

In our passage today, Paul uses the analogy of running a race. To run a race requires some practice and training if we are to run the race well. Paul is thinking in terms of a prize, so preparation is essential. When applied to our faith journey, the preparation required is a daily effort. We must spend time reading and studying our Bibles, praying,… each day. We cannot prepare every once in a while and expect to do well in our race. Our journey of faith is a daily race.

The race we run is not a 100-yard dash or a 1/4 mile race. It is not even a marathon. Our journey of faith is a race that encompasses a lifetime. Our race begins the day we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and it ends the day we draw our last breath. It is a long race. It is a hard race. But we do not race alone. First, Jesus Christ dwells in us as the Holy Spirit, leading and guiding, directing and correcting. Second, we run with others – our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, there is much encouragement to be had as we run our race.

Encouragement is important because the race is not always run on a perfectly flat track. Much of the race is run on a pretty steady course, but not all of it. At times our course will dip down into the valleys and we will have times when the path is quite rocky. We will also have moments when we find our path is atop The mountain and we feel like we are running on a cloud. The ups and downs are part of our race. We learn and grow, we discover more about God and ourselves, we persevere and develop trust. The Holy Spirit and the faithful remain present in the good and the bad. At times we too are blessed to be a brother or sister helping someone else along their race. We are all ever a work in progress. Paul puts it this way: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect…”. Yet he presses on.

Today is another day to run the race. As we live out our faith today, may we run the race well.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for all those times when you were there for me – to encourage me, to lift me up, to carry me. Open my eyes to see the opportunities you give me to help others on their races. Amen.

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Turn to God

Reading: Psalm 63: 6-8

Verse 6: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night”.

In his time out in the desert David appears to have some trouble sleeping. Verses 9 and 10 indicate that David is out in the desert because his enemies are pursuing him. Maybe this Psalm is written when King Saul was hunting him down or maybe it is later, perhaps when Absalom was leading a rebellion. Both were times when David fled into the desert or wilderness to find refuge. While none of us have probably fled because someone was trying to kill us, most of us have experienced trouble sleeping because of some trial or hardship or difficulty.

When I have had trouble sleeping, I have tried all sorts of remedies. I have tried, of course, counting sheep. I have read a book or played a game on my phone. I have tried listening to music. I have gone for a walk. In those times when a stressful decision lies ahead or when something else big is on my mind, I can turn to worry or fretting or… Today’s Psalm is a good reminder to me of what my first option should be: prayer. David writes to God, saying, “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night”. David turns his thoughts to God. We do not know if he turned over his worry or if he sought God’s guidance or if he simply admitted his need for God’s help. But we do know that he went to God first in his time of need. It is a good reminder to us to seek God first and not as a last resort.

Because his trust is in God, David can rejoice. In the next two verses we read of how David sings to God and of how he feels upheld by God. When we turn to God we too will experience God as our help. Like David, this leads us to rejoice in the ways that God is and has been present in our lives. In future times of trial and distress we will more quickly turn to God as time after time we learn that God upholds us too. Our soul learns to first turn to and to cling to God in our times of need. God’s faithfulness and love and care build our trust in God.

On those nights when sleep evades us, may we turn to God first. If we cannot name the fear or worry or… to offer up a prayer, we can turn to the Bible to draw near to God. If we can name it, may we give it to God and trust that God will be present and will be our help.

Prayer: Lord, when the storms rage or when the attacks of fear or doubt or worry come, be my refuge. Draw me first to you. Remind me of David and his example that you would be my shelter in the shadows. Thank you God! Amen.


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Head Over Heels

Reading: Psalm 63: 1-5

Verse 1: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”.

In our Psalm today, David is in the desert and he is seeking God. He offers a prayer to God that gives thanks for God’s power and glory and love. In the desert, in “a dry and weary land”, David’s soul longs for God. In the opening verse we read, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”. David earnestly seeks God. This is not a casual search for God. It is a search filled with passion and a sense of commitment, maybe even with a little urgency added in.

Yesterday at noon I gathered around the table with the usual crew that makes up the noon Bible study. Earlier in the morning some men of the church gathered to work through our church’s Lenten study. This afternoon I’ll gather with the book club as we discuss our chapters for the book that we have been reading about prayer. Tonight I will gather with about 8 high school boys to talk about being a man of God. Then after that I’ll gather with a different group of men to work through our Lenten study. The people that make up these groups ranges from teenagers through those well into retirement. There are men and women, some single, some married, some divorced, some widowed. One of the beautiful things they have in common is the very thing that David writes about today: a thirst for God, a longing for God.

The teen boys are just beginning their journeys of faith and are just getting to know God. Many of the people I gather with have been walking with God longer than I have been alive. I often have said to the youth I work with that there is nothing much more beautiful to me than the 90-year-old still showing up for Bible study each week. This image reflects what all of our journeys of faith should look like.

When we are pursuing God, our thirst and longing for God is never quite satisfied. We study and learn more and more about God. We grasp a new truth and deepen our faith. But along the way we also see new areas of darkness in that corner of our life and we discover that we still have some work to do. Along the way we also come to new questions and to new places of understanding that call us on to more prayer, seeking, and study. Being in love with God draws us to want to know God more and more. As we continue to thirst and long for God, we find that our pursuit leads us to fall head over heels in love with God. When we seek God, we will find God, deepening our relationship with God. May it ever be so.

Prayer: God, thank you for the parts of yourself that you have revealed to me. What I have come to know draws me to want to know even more. Keep me ever hungry, ever seeking. Keep me hungry and thirsty for you, O God. May I never be satisfied but always want more of you. Always. Amen.


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Wait

Reading: Psalm 27

Verse 14: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”.

Psalm 27 and its emotions look much like our life and the ups and downs we experience. Part of what I love about the Bible and about Psalms like this are the honesty. It is not all fairy tale – there is hurt and trial and pain and doubt and fear… David, the author of this Psalm, was a real person who struggled with real things. Because of this, the words written many years ago remain relevant.

David opens by sharing the confidence he has in the face of evil men and enemies. “My heart will not fear” speaks of his sure trust in God. He then writes of his desire to spend time in God’s house, the temple. David finds beauty and safety and can sing to and praise God. We go through much of life feeling like David does here in the first six verses. We live more good days than bad.

In my head at least, the tone changes in verse 7. I hear a more desperate voice in the next verses. The “hear me” sounds like a plea, the “do not hide” sounds like a sincere request, the “do not reject or forsake me” sounds like a wishful exhale. David comes to God in this manner for the same reason we do at times. Our human nature is to doubt, to wonder, to question if God will stand by us again.

Some of the time, at least, we question why God would “allow” this thing to happen. That leads us to question if God will be present. And sometimes we create our own trial or suffering by our decisions or because we chose to sin. Especially then we wonder if God will help us out again. David was in all these situations at times too. He questioned and wondered too. He turned to God in prayer for and he sought God in the scriptures. And God was always there. This too will be true for us. Our loving God will always be there.

The Psalm closes with these words: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”. Yes, it can be hard to wait. But at times we must wait and trust in the Lord. Sometimes there is a learning to be had, sometimes God’s plan is bigger than our limited vision or understanding. May we be strong in the waiting. May our hearts remain connected to our God. Wait for the Lord – God is faithful.

Prayer: Loving God, above all else you are faithful and loving. In my ups and downs, keep me ever cognizant of your presence. Thank you for your love that never fails. Amen.


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Two Realities

Reading: Psalm 27

Verse 11: “Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path”.

The Psalm today acknowledges two realities: evil in the world and God’s constant presence. The psalmist encounters evil men who attack and besiege him, who surround him. The psalmist acknowledges times when mother, father, and others have turned away. These are hard, difficult trials. The bigger reality, though, is God’s presence. There is no fear of the things of this life. God is his present and eternal stronghold, his eternal light and salvation.

The psalmist finds refuge in God. When he seeks God and is in God’s house, there in assurance. There is a peace and a beauty found in the house of the Lord. It is the place he wants to dwell. There the psalmist can sing and make music; there he sees the goodness and the beauty of the Lord. To become closer to God, he requests, “Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path”. When not finding refuge in the house of God, he wants to know God and His ways so that he can take it with him out into the world. He will seek to walk a straight path – one that is pleasing to God and brings honor to God.

We live within these two realities as well. We will encounter people who are unkind, who attack us, who gossip about us, who take advantage of us, who abuse us. We will also experience times of illness and loneliness and we will separate ourselves from God as we sin from time to time. We also seek the Lord our God. We turn to God in prayer, we worship God in God’s house and in His world, we read and study our Bible… We too seek to dwell with the Lord. And as we go out into the world, we seek to bear witness to the light and love of Jesus Christ. We too live between these two realities that the psalmist writes of today.

The Psalm concludes with these two verses: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness and beauty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”. God is here. We can be confident of that. When we seek the Lord, we will find Him. God wants to be known. We do not have to wait long – God is as close as our next breath. Turn to God and breathe in the Lord.

Prayer: God, I thank you for your abiding presence in my life. May I ever look to you and always seek your face. Draw me to you, O God, moment by moment, day by day. Amen.


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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.