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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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Faithful

Reading: 1 Samuel 2: 1-8

Verse 2: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no one like our God”.

Today we hear Hannah’s response to having a son. Years of suffering are over as she gives birth to Samuel. Hannah then raised Samuel until he was weaned and then she kept her promise to God. She gives Samuel to Eli, dedicating Samuel’s life to the Lord. Then, in grateful response to God, she offers up the prayer that we find today in our passage.

The prayer begins with Hannah rejoicing in the Lord because “in the Lord my horn is lifted high”. She has found strength in God and delights in the deliverance that she has found. She is no longer barren. She is no longer on the outside looking in. She has given Elkanah a son.

Hannah now knows joy instead of sorrow. She knows that God has been with her throughout. Yes, she spent years in shame but she was not alone. Yes, she spent year after year praying for a son that just never came, but in the end God was faithful. In verse 2 she rejoices: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no one like our God”. Only God could answer her prayer, only God could give her a son. Yes, there is no one like our God.

A verse later Hannah prays, “The Lord is a God who knows, and by Him deeds are weighed”. Hannah kept her focus on God and on living well. She did not stoop to the provocation by Peninnah. She remained confident in God. God heard her cry for a son and He blessed her with Samuel. We too can rejoice with God when we are faithful, when we walk the narrow path of Jesus Christ. May we trust as Hannah trusted, day by day, walking faithfully so that we too can rejoice in our God, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for Hannah’s witness of steadfast faith and perseverance with you. Thank you for your faithfulness to her and to me. Praise God! Amen.


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Present

Reading: Job 2:1-10

Verse 10: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble”?

Job was put forth by God as a man of deep faith, a man who was blameless and upright. Prior to the current trial, Job has had a wonderful life. Job was blessed – a wife, ten children, many servants, large flocks and herds. Then one day Satan is allowed to test that faith. Job loses all but his wife in one fell day. Even after this massive loss, Job remains faithful to God. Basically he says to his wife, ‘God gives, God takes – may the name of the Lord be praised’.

In our passage today, Satan requests and is granted one more degree of trial. Satan afflicts Job with painful sores from head to toe. As Job is sitting in ashes scraping his sores, his wife says, “Are you still holding onto your integrity? Curse God and die”! Not exactly supportive, but very realistic in terms of how people thought then and of how many think today. There is an imagined connection between sin and suffering and between blessings and righteousness. When something bad happens to a good person we wonder, ‘Why them’? When something good happens to a bad person we also wonder, ‘Why them’?

Not Job. Job remains steadfast. Job knows that God is always present. His trust and faith in God are not dependent upon his situation in life. In response, Job asks his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble”? When good or blessings come in our life, we don’t refuse it. How can we accept only the good? For Job, we cannot. To go through so much and to remain do true to his faith is a great witness to us. As life brings its ups and downs may we remember the servant Job and his faith that remained strong. God is present in it all. May our faith cling to this truth.

Lord God, in the trial and in the joy, may I praise your name. In the mundane and in the exciting, may I praise your name. In all things, may I praise your holy name. Amen.


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Full Hope

Reading: Psalm 130: 5-8

Verse Seven: “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption”.

Today’s passage centers around waiting. For most of us, waiting is hard. Even the most mundane waiting is hard. After only a few minutes in what we feel is a slow moving check-out line, we are looking left and right to see if there is a faster line. As the light turns green we wait at least a nanosecond before honking at the stationary driver in front of us. We live in an instant gratification, get it done yesterday world. It is hard to wait.

The psalmist writes, “I waited for the Lord, my soul waits”. I do not read any anxiousness or any agitation in this statement. For the psalmist it seems normal to wait for the Lord. The second half of this verse explains why: “in His Word I put my hope”. The Word of the Lord is steadfast and true. It revives the soul. It is sweeter than pure honey. These are but a few of the reasons that we too should put our hope in God’s Word.

As the Psalm continues, watchmen wait for the morning. They stand atop the Wall steadfastly waiting for the sun to peek up over the horizon. They wait with patience and hope. Although they can do nothing to hasten the sun’s rising, they wait trusting that the sun will rise another day. It is this same trust that we are called to have in the Lord. God is as faithful as the sun rising each day.

Verse Seven reads, “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption”. God’s love is an unfailing love. It is a love that always endures and always gives. It is a love that offers mercy and forgiveness that we do not deserve, given without price. In this love we do find full redemption. In this love we are made new every morning. In this love we are reconciled to the Lord over and over and over. This is a love that we can trust. It is a love that we can place our hope in. Thanks be to God for this love and hope.


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Overcome

Reading: 1st John 5: 1-6

Verse Five: “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God”.

In our passage today we see how our connection to Jesus is born of our love for God and vice versa. The more our love of God grows, the more we follow the ways of Jesus, revealing a growing love of God. The more we follow the ways of Jesus, the deeper our connection to God becomes as our love of God also grows. These interconnected relationships strengthen and encourage one another and they grow alongside one another.

One cannot separate God from Jesus. John writes, “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God”. This is what leads us to love both God and Jesus. It also leads us to love one another. When we love God, we love Jesus. It is through this love that we carry out His commands. Primary among those is the command to love one another. In doing so we are modeling what Jesus first modeled. It is part of that cyclical relationship.

John also writes of this love overcoming the world. It overcomes the world because the love of God is greater than, stronger than, more powerful than, more steadfast than the powers of the world. Our fleshy desires are only temporary and can therefore only be satisfied temporarily. As soon as the buzz or euphoria or excitement or newness wears off, we feel pulled to that fleshy desire again, starting over from square one again. More of this cycle never truly satisfies.

Having a relationship with Jesus Christ brings a peace and joy and contentment and happiness that is forever. It is not built on anything temporal, so it does not fade or rust. The love of God and Jesus simply grows and deepens. When we cast our lot with Jesus, we begin the journey of overcoming the sins and desires of this world. They become less and less as Jesus becomes more and more. John closes by reminding us of our helper in this battle. He reminds us that the Holy Spirit testifies to the truth. Ever leading and guiding us along our walk with Jesus, the Holy Spirit blesses us by keeping us connected to God and to His Son. Thanks be to God for our belief in Jesus the Christ, He who overcame the world.


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Resolute

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verse Seven: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

Isaiah begins our passage today acknowledging the word that sustains him and shares how each morning his ear is awakened to listen. For those who regularly invest time in reading their Bibles, they can relate well to what Isaiah is saying here. Whether it is early in the morning or over the noon hour or just before bedtime, daily reading of our Bibles leads to knowing God’s Word. In turn, the Word will sustain us over and over. As a result, Isaiah writes, “The sovereign Lord has opened my ears”. Time in our Bibles leads to our ears being opened more and more to God’s voice in our lives.

Time with God builds our connection with God, just as it would with any relationship. Isaiah goes on to write of not being rebellious. This too is our goal. But the reality is that we will sin. However, the more time we spend with God in prayer, worship, and reading our Bibles, the less we will sin. For example, there are things I did and said ten years ago that I now see as sin and strive to do no more. As we mature in our faith the narrow road becomes narrower as we better and better understand what it means to walk closely with our God.

As one grows in the faith so too does our trust in the Lord. In verse seven Isaiah writes, “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”. Isaiah trusts that as he walks in faith, God has his back. This does not mean that life will be perfect. In fact, in verse six, he writes of the abuse and violence that he has experienced because of his faith. At times we too will experience abuse or rejection or maybe even violence because of our faith. Yet even then we do know that God remains with us, helping us through. And maybe we can even get to the place the apostles got to, rejoicing that we could suffer for Christ.

Verse seven goes on to say, “I have set my face like flint and I know I will not be put to shame”. This verse will be echoed in the New Testament as Jesus turns toward Jerusalem for the last time as Palm Sunday approaches. As followers of Jesus, may we also be resolute in our faith, walking a firm and steadfast path, wherever God may lead us this day and each day. Amen.


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Praise and Exalt

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 & 19-29

Verse 27: “The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine upon us”.

The section of Psalm 118 that we read today is full of joy over being connected to God. Verse one is used in a popular praise and worship song. I can’t but help singing, “Give thanks to the Lord, our God and King, His love endures forever”. In our church and in many others we will sing this song on Sunday morning. The song and this Psalm are just part of the excitement of Palm Sunday.

The Psalm was a well-known Psalm so Jesus would have been familiar with it. These words probably encouraged Him as He turned and made His way to Jerusalem one last time. He knew well what lay ahead so the reminders that God is good and that His love endures forever would have brought Jesus comfort and strength. In recalling verse 22, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone”, Jesus would have found affirmation in the mission that lie ahead.

As we read this Psalm ourselves, we can also find encouragement and strength. On our paths through life we too encounter times of trial and testing. To remember “I will give thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation” places us firmly in God’s family both now and into eternity. In seeing the bigger picture, we are better able to walk through the trials. To remember “The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine upon us”, reminds us of God’s ever-present light that guides and blesses us, especially in those trials.

Almost at the end of the Psalm we read these wonderful words of thanksgiving and praise: “You are my God, and I will give you thanks; You are my God, and I will exalt you”. Yes, indeed, you are our God. For that we lift our thanksgiving and praise today! Your love endures forever, always a sign of your goodness. Thanks be to God! Amen.