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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Jesus’ Healing Touch

Reading: Luke 6: 17-19

Verse 19: “All tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all”.

When I read the verse above, I first think that maybe Jesus was in a level space right next to the biggest hospital in the region. “All” came to touch Jesus. It is not four friends bringing a lame man on a his mat so that Jesus can heal the man. It is “all” people who seek Jesus’ touch so that they can be healed. But what if people are not just seeking physical healing?

What if the majority of the “all” are seeking Jesus for spiritual and/or emotional healing? Why then, they are just like us today. When I consider all the people I know today, most of them are healthy physically. Maybe a little high cholesterol here or a cold there, but otherwise pretty healthy. When I turn my thoughts to our emotional and spiritual health, there is a whole different picture that comes to my mind. Then “all” is the correct word for who needs Jesus’ healing touch.

I, you, everyone we know is in need of healing from the sin in our lives. Sometimes they are sins that occur spontaneously – jealousy over another’s success or anger at an unintentional slight. Sometimes sins are more regular – battles with pride, ego, judging, lust – just to name a few. This alone includes at least 99.999% of us. All of us need the healing touch of Jesus to be cleansed of our sin. Many are also dealing with emotional issues from experiences in their past and/or situations in their current realities.

I would wager that most reading this are in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. If not, it is as simple as asking Jesus into your heart, finding a local church to worship and learn in, and committing to reading the Bible and following its ways. But for most of us, we have wandered our path to Jesus and have come to know and follow Him. We’ve humbled ourselves and admitted our need for Jesus’ healing touch.

One last “all” – all of us know someone (or many someones) who need Jesus’ healing touch today. May we be intentional about connecting them to the touch of the great Healer, Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, may I connect others to you. As I engage others and share Valentine’s cards, may I help folks to feel your love and healing power. Amen.


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Blessing, Woe

Reading: Luke 6: 17-26

Verses 17-18: “A great number of people… had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases”.

In Jesus’ ministry, His teaching and healing were often connected. People were drawn to the healing that Jesus’ physical touch would bring. In today’s passage we read, “A great number of people… had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases”. For those there were in need of physical healing, we read that they only needed to touch Jesus to experience healing. I imagine the crowd was milling around and pressing in on Jesus.

As Jesus begins to speak He addresses both the blessings and woes that people experience. The words that Jesus speak also offer healing. Through the “blessed are you” statements, Jesus offers the hope of a promised better life. These words bring comfort, reassurance, and healing. He also offers several “woe to you” statements. These words bring warning, conviction, and, ultimately, they offer healing to those living in sin. If all present will allow Jesus’ words to touch them, they can experience spiritual healing.

The first three “blessed are” statements deal with those who are poor, hungry, and weeping. To these, Jesus attached a future hope and promise. The fourth speaks to those who are being persecuted because of their faith in Christ. Jesus reminds them that they walk with Him. For all people, life has trials and sufferings. To those that day living with these, Jesus offers eternal hope as He says, “rejoice in that day” because “great is your reward in heaven”. Keep the faith, keep your eyes on Christ, trust in what is to come.

Jesus also addresses those who are enjoying life now. He speaks to those who are rich, well fed and to those who are laughing and are thought well of by men. Jesus says woe to these because they are pursuing and enjoying the things of this earth, all of which are temporary. The when or will statements apply to the life of torment that will come as well.

We live with the same choice to make. Our priorities, our focus, our faith, our concern for others – these things will bring us blessings or woes. Do we hunger for the Word? Are we concerned for and engaged with the poor? Do we weep with those who are suffering or struggling? Do we speak up and live out our faith courageously and boldly? These are the things that will bring blessing. May these be the things we pursue and chase after. Then all the glory will be to God.

Prayer: Lord, help me to live first for you and then for others. In all I say and do, may love be my lead and my guide. Amen.


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Simple Relationships

Reading: Mark 7: 1-8

Verse 6: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.

Today’s passage deals with who we are as opposed to who we want to appear to be. This passage applies to us as individuals and to our churches as well.

The Pharisees and religious leaders notice Jesus’ disciples doing something that they think shouldn’t be done. They are eating with unclean hands. The disciples did not wash their hands before eating. Yes, there is a practical side to this. But the religious folk aren’t concerned with this aspect. They are concerned with the spiritual implications of eating with unclean hands. By simply being in the world, one can possibly touch something that itself is unclean. If you then eat without ceremonially washing, then the sin or impurity enters you. So they ask, “Jesus, why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders”?

Jesus does not really answer their question. He turns the subject back on them. Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13, saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. The religious folks know what to say. They also ought to know why they are saying it. They have lost their connection with the source of the Law. Over the years the Torah or law has grown to the point of being cumbersome. Many of the traditions or rules are things that man has added over time. The intent was to help people follow the law, but it has become a long list of things to do or to check off the list. It has moved far away from worshipping God. Jesus reflects, “You have let go of the commandments of God and are holding onto the traditions of men”.

We too can fall into following man-made traditions or rules and can allow these to drag us far from God. If we go to church on Sunday morning but it becomes a burden or hardship, is it really worshipful to God? If we go up and eat the bread and drink the juice but do not confess and repent of our sins, is it really holy communion? If we say we are a welcoming church but do not engage the stranger who enters our midst, are we really loving all people? If we read our Bibles each day but do not apply the Word to our lives, is it really a meaningful discipline? Yes, this is just the beginning of a long list of questions.

O Lord, give us faith and not religion. Give us relationships and not lists of rules. May our faith be about simple relationships – loving you and loving neighbor. And may all we say and do and think flow from these two central commands. May it be so. Amen.


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Praise the Lord

Reading: Psalm 111

Verse 2: “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them”.

Psalm 111 opens with these words: “Praise the Lord”. From there it tells us why we should do so. The psalmist describes the works of the Lord with words such as great, glorious, majestic, faithful, and just. It speaks of God being righteous, gracious, compassionate, steadfast, holy, and awesome. The Psalm concludes with these words: “To Him belongs eternal praise”. Indeed!

Verse two states, “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them”. When I do as the verse says and take some time to think about God’s work in the world, it does bring a sense of awe. As I imagine the Red Sea parting and Jesus calling Peter out to walk on the water, I am in awe. Yet God is also in the personal. God is in the day to day of our lives as well. Part of my time each morning with God is a little “Thank Journal” that I keep. Each morning I reflect on the day before and write down about a half dozen specific things that I am thankful for. I then lift my thanks and praise to God in a short time of prayer. It is a way to recognize God’s great works in my life.

In verses four and five the psalmist shares how the Lord is gracious and compassionate. First, God provides us our daily bread. Second, God remembers the covenant. In the first I am again reminded of God’s day to day care for us both physical and spiritual. God provides both our daily sustenance and the Spirit’s presence each day. Both remind us of how detailed God’s love is. It is personal and focused on each of us. In the second I am drawn to the big picture. Yes, the covenant is personal but to me it is the overarching story of God’s love for all of creation. To me the covenant reminds us that God loves us all no matter what. He loves us even when we are at our worst. It is a love that never wavers. It is a love that just goes on and on and on. God’s love never fails.

Praise the Lord! To Him belongs eternal praise! Amen!


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Essential to Life

Reading: John 6: 47-51

Verse 51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”.

Jesus speaks words of hope today. Verse 47 reads, “he who believes has everlasting life”. What a promise! Next to speaking before a crowd, the fear of death is our greatest fear. It is the end. It is unknown. It is the loss of connection with those we love. Unless you believe in Jesus Christ. The gift of eternal life removes all these fears. It changes the outlook to joy and even anticipation.

In our passage today Jesus is sharing the path to eternal life. Believe in Jesus. Confess Him as Lord of life and gain eternal life. For the Jews, He contrasts this with their experience with the physical bread that God had sent down. Their ancestors are the manna that God sent in the desert and they were sustained physically, but in the end they died. By contrast, the bread that Jesus offers is spiritual nourishment. Take in this bread and you will not die, Jesus says.

Verse 51 sums it up: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”. This is such a powerful verse. Jesus was sent by God. If we become one with Jesus, if we “eat of this bread”, we will be indwelled by His Spirit. This is a new relationship that not only sustains us in this life but leads to eternal life as well. This bread, His flesh, will indeed be given for the life of the world. We know that the wages of sin is death. Jesus took on the sins of the world on the cross and through His blood we find forgiveness of our sins. His blood washes us clean. Sin is no more and we are once again restored to life. Each time we take communion we remember this gift.

This idea of Jesus being the bread of life that came down from heaven may have been a stumbling block to the Jews, but it is our hope and promise. It is foundational to our faith. It is essential to our life. Thank you God for sending Jesus, the gift of the bread of life.


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Something Far Better

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 35: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty”.

For the audience in today’s passage, there is a recent past and a distant past. Just the day before Jesus fed them. He took five loaves and two fish and fed thousands. And there were twelve baskets full of leftovers. He had satisfied their physical hunger in an amazing way. Remember their response? They wanted to force Jesus to be their earthly king.

In the handful of hours since the miracle, the people have connected their recent experience with an event from their people’s distant past. When the people were starving out in the desert, just a month and a half after leaving Egypt, they grumbled against Moses. God responded by saying, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you”. For the rest of their forty years in the desert, each person received food from God. So the crowd now returns to Jesus, looking for food for a second day.

Jesus’ response to the people coming for food was this: “Do not work for food that spoils”. In other words, don’t be so concerned with earthly sustenance. It is not that Jesus wants them to starve, it is that Jesus has something far better to offer. To receive this eternal food, Jesus tells them that they must “believe in the one God has sent”. The people respond to Jesus’ claim with a request for another miracle. Prove it Jesus.

Jesus again claims to be the bread that God has sent down from heaven. Their response is to ask for this bread that gives life to the world. Jesus says,”I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty”. Come to Jesus, believe in Jesus, and you will be satisfied with food for your souls and water for your spiritual thirst. In this way, Jesus offers something far better than daily meals. It is far better to receive eternal food that sustains us for eternity. Jesus continues to offer this far better option. The offer is still on the table. For those who have come to Jesus and accepted His Lordship, we rejoice and partake daily. For those yet to bow before the King, take the offer and find life. Believe in Jesus Christ and be filled. Believe in Jesus Christ and find true life.