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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Generous Fruit?

Reading: Luke 3: 7-18

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

John the Baptist begins his teaching with a challenge, calling out the “vipers” and in the crowd. The general thought is that John is addressing the religious leaders who have come out to see him. They came not to repent and be baptized but to see just what John is up to and to ridicule him and his message. “Just who does he think he is?” would be their primary thought. John, who knows that he has been sent by God, is not intimidated or threatened. He directly addresses their arrogance and sense of privilege, warning that the ax is already at the root. Many have come to John, heard his message, and have repented and been baptized. The proof is in the pudding. John challenges the religious leaders to do the same, saying, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. In other words, it isn’t enough to just say you have faith; it must be visible in your life and in the lives of those you minister to.

Before we jump on the Pharisee and Sadducee condemnation bandwagon, we must first look within ourselves. Do our lives of faith bear kingdom fruit? Do our lives draw others into relationship with Jesus Christ? John gives some practical examples of what this looks like. For some, it is clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. For others it is not using your position of authority to take advantage of others, but to treat all fairly and equally and justly. For others it is being content with what you have, not getting into the race to have more and more. In doing so, it allows others to have some.

This season of the year is a time when many are generous. Is it just to keep our spouse and children and good friends happy and satisfied? Or is it to spread the love of Jesus Christ to just one more person and then to one more person after that? Do we seek ways to give gifts that do not come wrapped up in pretty paper? If we do, then we will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Giving God, guide me to those in need of hope as well as the basics of life – food, shelter, clothing. Help me to be a blessing in all the ways I can to all the people I can, shining your light and love into their lives. Amen.


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Offering

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”.

The book from the prophet Malachi closes the Old Testament. Like many other Old Testament prophets, Malachi’s words connect to Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Chapter 3 opens with God letting Malachi and all of Israel know that God will send “my messenger”. This messenger will “prepare the way before me”. Malachi is prophesying John the Baptist. As we work through the other readings this week, we will flesh out the story as we learn that John will indeed prepare the way for the coming of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Malachi goes on to write, “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come”. As John preaches repentance out in the wilderness, Jesus will come to be baptized. The Spirit of God will descend on Jesus, marking the beginning of His ministry. Jesus will be the “messenger of the covenant”. The new covenant will be written on the cross, where Jesus will die for our sins. This new covenant changes everything – both now and eternally. It frees us from the guilt and shame of our sins as the blood washes them away. It makes a way for us to be saved to eternal life as we are made new again. There is a lot in verse 1: repentance, forgiveness, salvation, life.

Then, in verse 2, there is a shift, a reality check. Malachi writes, “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”. No, Jesus is not all peace and love and flowers. One does not have to spend too much time in the Gospels to discover that there is a cost to discipleship and to find that the road is narrow. When Jesus tells us that we must die to self and take up our cross daily, we find a cost. When Jesus redefines our priorities by telling us that we must first love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and then we must next love our neighbors as Jesus first loved us, then we find the road is narrow and is hard to walk at times.

If we are really following Jesus, we find that the Refiner calls us to die to self over and over and over. Sin after sin falls away as Jesus refines us. Our life gradually becomes the “offering given in righteousness”. May it be so for me and for you.

Prayer: God, take me as I am today and refine me to be more like you. Strip my pride and selfishness and judging – all that leads me to think I am more, making you less. Reverse that O God – help me to die to self so that I may be less so that Jesus is more. Amen.


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Missionaries

Reading: Mark 6: 6b-13

Verses Twelve and Thirteen: “They went out and preached that people should repent… They drove out demons… anointed… and healed”.

After a period of watching Jesus in ministry, the disciples are empowered by Jesus and are sent out two by two. Jesus is beginning to train them to be His replacement. Full of faith in Jesus, “they went out and preached that people should repent… They drove out demons… anointed… and healed”. The disciples are able to model the ministry of Jesus. They preach the gospel news of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. They encounter the demon-possessed and they drive out the demons. They anoint people and heal them of their illnesses and diseases. In all these actions, the disciples are restoring people to wholeness and into faith in Jesus Christ.

Each of these actions drew people to Jesus, depending on their need. These three things continue to be at the core of the ministry of the church. The sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ is still the central activity of the church and of all followers of Christ. This is usually the first step. Belief often leads then to restoration of the person – body, mind, and soul. It is through faith in Jesus that we all find healing.

The sending of the twelve (and later the sending of the 72) establishes the idea that all believers are sent out into the world to be Jesus to the lost, the lonely, and the hurting. Some are sent someplace on the other side of the world and some are sent right next door. All of us are sent. This passage also contains a reality. Although all believers are sent, not all non-believers are ready to receive. Some will not welcome us as we come in the name of Jesus. We offer Jesus as best we can and then we move on. Remembering that we once were lost too, we trust that other believers will follow as God continues to work at saving the whole world.

We go forth today, into our day and into our world, willing missionaries sent with the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. May we ever be faithful missionaries of the gospel. May our words and actions bring healing and wholeness, leading others to Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Disobedience

Reading: 1 Samuel 15: 34-35

Verse 35: “The Lord was grieved that He made Saul king over Israel”.

Today our passage marks the beginning of a transition in the leadership of Israel. Saul was Israel’s first king. If we remember, it was the people who begged for a king, rejecting God as their leader. Saul was a good king at first, but then he became disobedient to God and chose to follow his own plan instead. When confronted by Samuel, Saul does admit his sin, but his fate is sealed. We read, “The Lord was grieved that He made Saul king over Israel”. It made God sad that the one He chose to lead was disobedient.

Acts of disobedience are familiar to us as well. Even though we have an overall good relationship with God and are faithful most of the time, we can also be disobedient periodically. This is because we are human. Like Saul, we sadden God when we choose to disobey. We can think we know it all can make decisions that are not in line with God’s will and ways. We can have a clear sense of where God is trying to lead yet we go the other way. We can definitely feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit but still choose to ignore it and to even do just the opposite. We too can be disobedient.

In our passage today, we also read about Samuel’s reaction to Saul’s disobedience and rejection of God. We read that Samuel mourned for Saul. As sinful people, we find ourselves on both sides of this scenario. At times we grieve for our fellow brothers and sisters who stumble and spend a time living in sin. We grieve for the separation that they have from God. Sometimes our words or actions cause others to be hurt or to grieve. We also grieve God in these moments or seasons when sin or disobedience has the upper hand in our lives.

But, thanks be to God, our story or the relationship that we have with God does not end in disobedience. Because Jesus Christ was obedient to death on a cross, He paved the way for our possible victory over sin and ultimately over death. If humility and repentance are our response to sin in our life, then the mercy and love of God offers us forgiveness and restoration. Through this love and mercy, we once again can walk in faithful obedience with the Lord our God. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Repent and…

Reading: Mark 1: 14-18

Verse Fifteen: “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news”.

Jesus begins His earthly ministry in a similar manner to John the Baptist’s ministry.  Like John, Jesus calls the people to repent and then to accept the good news.  Repentance must come first.  We simply cannot walk with Jesus when we have sin in our lives.  Sin, by its nature, separates us from God.  Repentance requires a change in our lives.  Whatever the sin, it leads us away from God.  So if our desire is to be in a relationship with God, then we must turn away from our sin and resubmit our lives to faithful obedience.

As Jesus entered Galilee, the message He preached was all about repentance.  He said over and over, “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news”.  This theme continued throughout His ministry.  The woman caught in adultery heard this message as Jesus told her, “Go now and leave your life of sin”.  Zacchaeus pledges a new life as he promises to repay all that he has wronged.  Jesus responds by declaring that salvation has come to Zacchaeus that day.  Over and over Jesus calls us to leave our sin behind and to turn to Him.

Repentance is hard.  It would be easier to skip over this part of the passage.  Repentance requires admitting that we did something wrong, that we faltered.  This requires a certain amount of humility.  Pride and ego can get in the way.  Repentance also requires an honest look into ourselves, a searching if you will, to see the sin in our lives.  And lastly, it requires that we commit to being better, to walking a more holy life, to being more like Jesus.

Jesus sought disciples who were willing to put their old life behind them to come and follow Him.  It required a radical change in direction.  Simon and Andrew heard His call and began a new way of life.  It was risky and full of the unknown.  It required trust.  Repentance can bring us these same feelings as we choose to leave a part of ourselves behind and we are not sure where our new self will go.  Just as Jesus called the first disciples, He calls us as well.  Jesus is still seeking followers who are willing to orient their lives to a new way of living over and over.  The journey of faith never ends as our faith is always growing and developing.  The call involves risk for us too.  Are we willing to risk and to trust in wherever Jesus leads?  After all, the call is to come and follow.


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Faithful Prayer

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23

Verse 18: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.

Today’s passage is about how Paul prays for others.  He is praying for a group of believers that he has heard of.  I think we all pray for a group of people.  While I most regularly pray for family and friends, I do add people to my daily prayers that I hear about at church.  At times, events in the community or in our wider world will draw my heart to be in prayer for those people or that situation.  So, like Paul, we too pray for people we do not know.  It is part of our role in the fellowship of all believers to pray for one another.  This all leads me to think about prayer.

The core of our daily prayer life focuses on the people and events that are close to our hearts.  Early each morning I pray for my extended family by name, for those I know battling cancer and illness, for those I know who have experienced recent loss, and for our church.  It is a pretty standard list.  It changes from time to time but remains pretty constant.  As I go for a walk, I also pray.  I pray for each pastor and their churches in our area.  I pray for our leaders – national, state, and local.  I pray for our police, highway patrol, EMTs, and firefighters and those who lead them.  I pray for the jail, both the inmates and the workers, as well as for the judicial staff across the street.  It is good to have a pattern of prayer to follow.  It is good to have a time set aside to pray.  It is good to have a regular list of folks to pray for.  It is good to be in prayer.  What and whom do you pray for each and every day?

Two other important areas of prayer that we need to consider are thanksgiving and confession.  It is important to take time each day to reflect on our blessings and to name them before God.  It acknowledges God as our provider and it reminds us of our need for His provision.  It helps us to be humble.  Another important area of prayer is our confession of sin.  We are sinful creatures so we are not usually in short supply of confessional material.  It is so important to daily bow before our Maker, to confess our sins, to seek His forgiveness, and to pledge repentance.  This act of prayer helps us stay in a right relationship with God.  How well do you offer thanks and practice confession?

Lord, may we ever bring our praise, our petitions, our thanksgiving, and our confessions to you.  You are faithful.  May we be as well.  Amen.