pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Love, Discern, Fruit

Reading: Philippians 1: 9-11

Verses 9-11: “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more… that you discern what is best… may you be filled with the fruit of righteousness”.

In our passage today, Paul offers a prayer for three things that are connected. One leads to another; one depends on the two proceeding it. These three play out in our lives of faith.

Paul begins by praying that the Philippians’ love “abound more and more”. This is the picture of love in our lives. The day we marry or have a child, we think we can’t possibly love our spouse or that child any more than we do that day. Yet we most certainly do. The same is true in our relationship with God. And the same is true of our love of the stranger. Christ’s love within us leads us to someone in need and as we share the same His love with them, our love of them begins to grow.

Love leads to discernment. When we know how our spouse or child or neighbor ticks, it is because our love for them has grown. It leads us into understanding them. Understanding them and our relationship with them is what allows us to look past faults, sins, and even wrongs against us. This discernment allows us to continue to love them and sometimes to love them even more. It is this knowledge built upon love that leads us to action – “to be filled with the fruit of righteousness”, to use Paul’s words.

When we come to love and know someone, we know their situation, their struggles… This allows us to become humble servants at times. This produces fruit – pure and blameless because it is not about us but is about doing the work of the Lord and bringing Him the glory. The more we love God, the more we know God, the more we are led to be His light and love in the world. It is a connection that we are blessed to be a part of and we are blessed when we are participating in it. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: God of love, help me to love you and all of your creatures more today than yesterday. May love lead to knowledge and knowledge to service, producing kingdom fruit. Amen.


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The King of Glory

Reading: Psalm 24

Verse 10: “Who is he, the King of glory? The Lord Almighty – He is the King of glory”.

In many denominations today is All Saints Day. It is a day to recognize, to remember, and to rejoice in the saints that have been and in those who are living exemplary faithful lives now. In a most general definition, a saint is one who lives or lived a life that reminds others of Jesus Christ.

David opens the Psalm by reminding us that “the earth and everything in it” – including us – is the Lord’s. The passage then moves on to the eternal question: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord”? Who will enter heaven? David’s answer is pretty straight forward: those with clean hands and a pure heart, those who do not bow down to idols. In the words of the day, the saints will ascend to be with Christ.

When folks arrive at the moment of drawing their final breath, almost all are either assured of what will come next or they are full of worry and fear. I have not been present in those final moments when one or the other was not the case. In situations where I have not been present, in the days just after a loss as I have met with lots of families, the assurance of life eternal was almost always either there or it clearly was in doubt. Once in a great while there is questioning about a loved one’s eternal future.

When I think on these experiences and reflect on this day to give our thanks for the saints we know and have known, I rejoice in those who live and have lived with clean hands and pure hearts. They love and worship the Creator. They set an example. When they read verse ten, the answer was or is not in doubt: “Who is He, the King of glory”? Why, He is their friend, Jesus Christ. All their words, actions, and deeds proclaim Jesus as Lord. The Lord Almighty, He is our friend too. As we journey through today and through life, may all we do and say and think bring glory to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

God, I think you for the great cloud of witness that you have provided in my life. Thank you for their witness to me. May each day of my life help others to know you as the many saints in my life have helped me to know you more. All praise and glory to you, O Lord. Amen.


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Heavenly Wisdom

Reading: James 3: 13-18

Verse 13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, be deeds done in humility”.

In our passage from James 3, he compares earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. Earthly wisdom is concerned with the self. It focuses on our own preferences and is driven by envy and selfish ambition. In our churches we can see this type of wisdom now and then. It usually arises when change is on the horizon. Change necessitates leaving the familiar and the comfortable. Individually we also cling to earthly wisdom when the Holy Spirit is nudging us to say or do something – for the same reasons. James reminds us that such wisdom is “earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil”.

Our alternative is to choose heavenly wisdom or wisdom from above. This wisdom is the opposite of earthly wisdom. Hear again the words that James uses to describe heavenly wisdom: “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere”. What a contrast! This wisdom leads us to think of God and others more than ourselves. This wisdom leads us to see and love all people as God does. This sounds a lot like how Jesus operated.

Our passage today opens with this verse: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, be deeds done in humility”. In essence, James is asking us who is wise by God’s standard. In a return to the theme of James 2, it is again our works and the fruit of our faith that reveals the true condition of our hearts. When we are allowing God’s wisdom to be our guide, we live out of a good place in our heart, following Jesus’ example. We love and care for those in need. We enjoy good relationships with God, our family, friends, co-workers, teammates, and even with the stranger. We seek good rather than evil. We maintain a humble servant’s attitude as we interact with God and neighbor. In turn, we experience the good life, blessed by God. May it be so for you and for me.

Dear God, fill me with your wisdom – a wisdom that is pure and considerate and compassionate and humble and loving. May all I do and say lift others up. Empower me to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and to shine a light on Jesus and His love. This day and every day, may your wisdom guide me. Amen.


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Power and Glory

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 7…: “The law of the Lord is perfect… trustworthy… right… radiant… pure… sure… precious”.

Psalm 19 speaks of how the power and glory of God is revealed. It begins where most people first sense God’s presence: in nature. When one looks at the stars in the sky or out over the vastness of the ocean, one cannot help but be drawn into God’s power and glory. In a similar way one can experience God’s power and glory sitting under a giant redwood or walking along a quiet forest path.

The second way that the psalmist speaks of experiencing God’s power and glory is in and through the law. Starting in verse seven, he writes, “The law of the Lord is perfect… trustworthy… right… radiant… pure… sure… precious”. These are all true of the law. But the power and glory is really found in the affects of these things. The law revives the soul, makes us wise, gives us joy, brings light to our eyes, is sweeter than honey. The affects of following God’s ways is revealed in how doing so blesses our lives.

Although not explicitly stated in the Psalm, there is a third way that reveals God’s power and glory. It is alluded to in verse 14. This verse asks that our words and thoughts are pleasing to God. It also draws heavily upon the first two ways that God’s power and glory are revealed – the sense of God in the created world and the holy way of living found in the law. When our lives reflect a holy reverence for God and all of creation and when we live out the ways of God as exampled by Jesus, then God’s power and glory is revealed in and through us. Those we encounter, those we work with, those we live with, those we worship with… experience God’s power and glory when they are with us. Our relationship with God overflows into our relationships with others. In this way God’s voice “goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world”. In this way all peoples of all nations will come to know God.

Father of creation, Father of law, Father of me – may I bear witness to your power and glory today. May my words and thoughts reveal you to all I meet today. In me may they see you. Amen.


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A Willing Spirit

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verses 1& 2: “Have mercy on me, O God… Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

The common understanding of the background of Psalm 51 is that it springs forth from David’s sins around the Bathsheba-Uriah episode. His outpouring of repentance comes after Nathan confronted him. The depth of his sin has settled in on him and David comes to God with a broken and sorrowful heart. This pours from the Psalm.

David begins with, “Have mercy on me, O God…”. Forgiveness begins with God extending us mercy. Mercy is that undeserved gift that we cannot earn yet never run out of. It is the love that makes it possible for our sins to be removed. Mercy says that God understands our plight as the sinful creatures that we are. The depth of God’s love says this over and over again.

In just the opening lines, David continues with, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. It is precisely what God does with our sin. He washes it away and remembers it no more. Unlike us, when we repent, God forgets our sins. This is a second sign of the depth of God’s love – we are made totally clean again. God restores us to righteousness and holiness. I imagine that God smiles as He looks upon us in this state. It is a knowing smile that I picture on God’s face. He knows us well.

As this section of our Psalm closes, we read these familiar lines: “Create in me a pure heart and a steadfast spirit within me”. These familiar words ring out over and over in my church and in churches all over the world on Ash Wednesday as we enter into a season of preparation for Easter. The sign of the cross on our foreheads reminds us that sin has a cost. Yes, mercy and forgiveness are free to you and me, but they did come with a price.

Verse 12 asks God to “grant me a willing spirit”. It is David’s request to walk more closely with God. Like David, may we too be honest with God, admitting our failures, welcoming His cleansing, and continuing our journey of faith with a resolute mind and heart. May we live today and every day with a willing spirit and a repentant heart. May it be so, all to the glory of God. Amen.


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King of Glory

Reading: Psalm 24: 3-10

Verses 8 and 10: “Who is this king of glory?… the Lord strong and mighty… He is the king of glory”.

Today’s Psalm is about connecting to God. It begins by asking who can approach God and stand at His altar. The psalmist tells us it is those with clean hands and a pure heart. It is one who does not worship idols and who does not swear falsely. It is one who seeks to connect to God. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can confess and repent and find forgiveness anytime. At all points, we can be made holy and pure again, able and ready to stand in God’s glorious presence.

The Psalm also reminds us of why we connect to God. The one with a clean hands and pure heart will receive blessings and will be lifted up. The psalmist writes, “such is the generation of those who seek Him”. The Lord does not bless with the things of this world – they are temporary. God blesses the faithful with joy and peace and contentment and hope – all things we cannot find in idols or other things of this world.

The last few verses speak of who it is we seek to connect to – the Lord God. The psalmist writes, “Who is this king of glory?… the Lord strong and mighty… He is the king of glory”. The Lord God is in control indeed strong and mighty. He will be present to us in our battles and will help us emerge victorious when we trust in Him. God is the king of glory. When in God’s presence we experience and dwell in His glory, but here in this time and place, we only experience a taste of God’s glory. When we stand in God’s heavenly presence, we will know His true glory.

Connecting to God and being daily in His presence brings us much in this life. Each day may we begin by trusting all of our being to the King of glory, the Lord our God. Amen.