pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Today is Ash Wednesday. This is a great passage to consider as we prepare to journey into the season of Lent. The words of this Psalm are a wake up call to Israel and to all who approach their relationship with God superficially.

The ashes that we will place on our foreheads reminds us of our mortality. Ashes were used for this same purpose in the days of Isaiah. Remembering our mortality reminds us that we are finite, limited, imperfect. Today begins the season that culminates the Saturday before Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the grave. In his resurrection we find our eternal hope. We are invited to walk through Lent as a season of preparation for that day. These forty days are a time of reflection, introspection, refining.

The people of Isaiah’s day were putting ashes on their foreheads, wearing sack cloth, bowing their heads to God. They were exhibiting all the outward signs of fasting. Today we can show up at church and have a cross drawn on our foreheads. We too can go through the motions. In our passage God’s people fasted, yes, but also continued to exploit the marginalized, to strike one another with “evil fists”, and to ignore the injustices and the oppression all around them. Verse four sums up God’s response: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. We cannot come to church and go through the motions of worship or Bible study or youth group and then go out and live as the world lives.

In verses six and seven God shares the kind of fast that is pleasing to him. As fast pleasing to God changes our hearts and leads us to fight injustice, to set the oppressed free, to share food with the hungry, to give shelter to the wanderer, to clothe the naked. In Lent we are called to look within, to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our indulgences. Doing so we will come to have a heart focused on drawing God’s kingdom near.

Verse eight reveals what happens when God’s people turn towards him and become like him: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear”. May it be so.

Prayer: God of the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the needy – lead me to the place of honest confession and sincere repentance. Make me aware of how I contribute to the pain and misery of the world and turn me from my harmful and hurtful ways. Kill in me all that keeps me from fully loving and serving you and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.


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Growing Seeds

Reading: Isaiah 61: 10-11

Verse 10b: “He has clothed me with garments of salvation… and robes of righteousness”.

The final two verses of Isaiah 61 speak of the joy of knowing God. The psalmist begins verse ten by exclaiming the delight and the joy found in his soul. It reminds me of a song that proclaims “better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere”. What a blessing we experience when we walk day by day in a loving relationship with our God.

In the middle portion of verse ten we read, “He has clothed me with garments of salvation… and robes of righteousness”. The image of God providing for us, of God clothing us, underscores his love for you and me. The type of clothing is also significant. God does not clothe us with any old thing. No, we are clothed in salvation and righteousness! Much like folks who fon their Broncos or Vikings or Raiders gear each Sunday in the fall, we too are to don our team clothes. Living out our salvation and righteousness – two defining characteristics of a Christian – as what identify us to the world. Just as there is no doubt that someone sporting a jersey is a fan of an NFL team, there should be no doubt as to who we are living our lives for.

Today’s passage closes with the reminder that one day God will “make righteousness and praise spring up before the nations”. Oh how we await that day! As we wait for the day of his return, we are called to live each day building up the kingdom of God in this time and place – in the one where we live and work. We are part of the team that plants seeds of faith in people’s hearts. As we live out our salvation and righteousness each day, may we strive to share our faith with others, helping the Spirit to grow those seeds into faith. May all we do and say and think be a part of others knowing God’s love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, each day open my eyes to the ways that I can be a part of your team. You are so patient with me and with our world. Such great love! You want all people to have a chance to choose the saving relationship that you offer. Use me to help others choose life. Amen.


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To This We Are Called

Reading: 1 Peter 2: 19-25

Verses 20-21: “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it… to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you”.

Peter writes of suffering for the faith to a group of people who knew physical persecution and real oppression. They faced unjust suffering for their faith from both the Jews and the Romans. They also lived as subjects of the Roman overlords, which often brought oppression. Peter encourages them by reminding them that it is commendable to “bear up” for God and faith. As followers of Jesus Christ, the early Christians sought to live out their call to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. These acts of doing good would draw attention to themselves, making them easier targets for persecution and oppression. It would have been easier to lay low, to just gather privately for worship, to just help their fellow Christians, to quietly live their faith. But that was not Jesus’ example. Peter reminds them, “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it… to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you”. Again, it is a call to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

In our part of the world today we do not face the same level of physical persecution and oppression because of our faith. Relatively speaking, we live in a very safe time. Is it even possible to suffer for one’s faith? We can certainly be the hands and feet – feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked… But none of these are likely to draw negative attention. It is usually just the opposite. And, yes, we may suffer slightly, having less ourselves because we have given some away.

In general we tend to stay on the surface levels of poverty and incarceration and the other ills of society. We apply bandaids instead of addressing the deeper roots. Yet if we dig a little in the scriptures, we will find that this is where Jesus operated. He addressed the deeper roots – the Pharisees’ arrogance and pride, the woman’s adulterous lifestyle, the cultural biases against women and Samaritans and…, the spiritual blindness of both individuals and the religious system. To pay a bill so that a family can have heat in the cold is a good thing. To address the poor living conditions that require an extraordinary amount of energy to keep warm is better. To visit the imprisoned is good. To invest in a relationship and to teach them another way to live once they are released is better. When we step deep into the muck, we risk the suffering as we more closely follow Jesus. I believe, if we are truly making a difference, to this we are called.

Prayer: God, to do more than a hand out requires more of me. It calls me into relationship and into true commitment. Lead and guide me on this path, O Lord. Amen.


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Things of Heaven

Reading: Luke 12: 32-34

Verse 32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”.

Jesus says to the crowd, to his followers, and to us today: do not be afraid. Fear drives a lot of what people think and do and say. Stress, anxiety, and worry are close cousins to fear. They too rest in the unknown and in the realm of doubt. The antidote: trust.

Jesus goes on to remind us why we should not fear, saying, “for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”. God wants to give us what we need and more. Jesus has just finished talking about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. In these verses Jesus emphasizes how much God cares for us, his children. Jesus transitions from assuring us that God will clothe and feed us to the assurance that God will give us the kingdom. It is a kingdom in the here and now and also in eternity. The first leads to the second. But that is tomorrow’s reading!

Today Jesus focuses on the kingdom here. To live in God’s kingdom here and now, we are called to focus our priorities on the ways of God. When we choose to live a servant’s life we are walking in Jesus’ footsteps. When our focus is first on loving God and then on loving neighbor then we are nearing the kingdom that Jesus is talking about. When we are generous and gracious and kind and compassionate then we find much joy and peace and contentment in our relationships, not in our stuff. In walking this way, we come to trust in our loving father. Fear is not a part of our lives. When the most important things in our lives are our relationship with God and our relationships with each other, then our heart is being filled with the treasures of heaven. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for helping me to value my relationships above my stuff, my time, myself. Keep me focused on you and upon those around me. May I love and serve as Jesus did. Amen.


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Way of Love

Reading: Galatians 3: 23-29

Verse 26: “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”.

Paul grew up as a strict adherent to the law. His life was all about knowing the law and about living by the holy guidance of the law. But on one of his journeys to arrest more followers of Jesus, Paul encountered the living and resurrected Jesus. Paul came to a new understanding of faith. He no longer saw the law as the thing that defined or gave you faith. Instead Paul came to know Jesus as the source of faith and hope and life. Paul found his identity in Christ alone and he went to work to help all know this same reality. In verse 26 we read, “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”. He goes on with a list – no Jew or Greek, no slave or free… – that really defines how God sees no limits. We are all children of God.

For Paul then, it also meant that through faith in Christ we are all connected to the promises found throughout the Bible. Because of this connection, Paul sees no division and sees a faith that is big enough to offer all the way to eternal life. This faith brings a freedom too. We no longer live under the law but instead live within a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Through this relationship we seek to follow or emulate Jesus. We will not be perfect as Jesus was perfect but we do strive towards his example of perfect love. Our love will fail at times but because we are clothed in Christ, he will always lead and guide us to love better. Things like fear or the concerns for worldly things like wealth and status and titles… can inhibit our love, but Christ within is always at work to help us love more. When we root our identity in Christ alone, then the way of faith is the way of love. May it be so this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord of all, be my all in all. Root me firmly in Jesus Christ alone. Water my roots with the Word and nourish my soul by your Spirit. Shape me with your hands and mold me to be more and more like your son. Be my all in all Lord God. Amen.


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Action

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse Eighteen: “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”.

Already in the early days of the church John was seeing a struggle between the words Christians said and claimed and the actions that they were living out. In the first chapter of 1st John, he encourages the followers of Christ to walk in the light. Walking is an active verb – John wanted them to walk in the faith or to have an active faith. He continues this encouragement in chapter two and then turns to warnings against loving the world and being led astray by false teachings. In chapter three John turns to our call as children of God and how to live righteous lives. It is within this chapter that our passage today lies.

For John and for the church today, we cannot separate the idea of being a Christian from the idea of love. The two cannot be separated. Jesus was all about loving others and that is one of Jesus’ primary directives to His followers. In most churches, we do this very well with each other. Yes, we will disagree now and then, but by and large the folks in our churches love one another well. Those John was addressing must have done this well too. The challenge comes in loving those outside the walls of our churches, those who are different, those who struggle with sin or hardships in their lives.

John was challenging the church to love those in need in a time when persecution was high. We are challenged today in a time when it is pretty safe to be a Christian. Yet we too struggle to always help those who cannot help themselves and to offer self-sacrificing love that goes out and meets people’s needs where they are at. John wrote, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”. Don’t say you love your neighbors but actually go out and love them. Don’t see injustice and do nothing about it. Don’t see the hungry without feeding them, the naked without clothing them, the lonely without visiting them…

There is much need and brokenness in our world. There is much love in our hearts. May the two meet not only in our thoughts and words but out there in the real world too. May we each be a part of making this happen today.


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Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verses Three and Four: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Today we begin the season of Lent. Lent is a period of preparation for Easter Sunday. During the season of Lent we look inward and seek to examine our lives and to repent of all that hinders our relationships with God and our fellow man. For this purpose, many give up something (or somethings) for Lent. They abstain or fast from things that get in the way of their relationship with God and, therefore, with their fellow man. In many churches we place ashes on the forehead. With ashes we are reminded of our mortality, of our absolute need for God, and of our desire to die to self so we can fully live for God.

In our passage today, Isaiah addresses fasting. It is a very appropriate reading to consider as we begin Lent. The passage opens with God directing Isaiah to “declare to my people their rebellion” and goes on to say that they “seem” eager to know God and they “seem” eager to draw near to God. In verses three and four it is revealed why: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Their fasting is for appearance; it is not to refine oneself and to draw closer to God. Today, for example, one may fast from chocolate – not for God but to loose weight. God does go on to indicate the kind of fast that is pleasing to Him. God desires us to fast from hard hearts and blind eyes, from self-centeredness and arrogance, from prejudiced and judging.

God desires for His people to loosen the chains of injustice and oppression, to offer acts of love and compassion such as feeding the hungry, offering shelter to the homeless, clothing the naked. In doing so our “light will break forth like the dawn”. To do these things, our heart needs to be in the right place. That is why we must look within to see what inhibits our relationship with God and all of His children. When our fast leads us to love and care for others, then our light does shine into the darkness. This kind of fast produces fruit as others see true faith in our hearts and they come to know the love of Christ in their hearts as well.

What is it that prevents us from seeing the needs all around us? What is it that prevents us from responding to the opportunities to love and serve others? This Lenten season may we begin to look within as we seek a walk of faith that is pleasing to God, one that shines light into darkness. May we have the courage to identify all that holds us back and prevents us from being the light in the darkness. May we have the desire to cast these things out of our hearts as we strive to walk closer to God. As we do so, God will create a clean and pure heart within each of us. May it be so for each of us. Amen.


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Slumber

Reading: Romans 13: 11-14

Verse 11: The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber.

Paul opens today’s passage with this great line: “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber”.  For Paul, his faith always seemed to carry a sense of urgency.  Not only did Paul live each day like it could be his last, but he wanted all believers to do so as well.  Not only that, but Paul also lived with this urgency that each day may be a non-believer’s last day so they needed to be saved now.

If today were your last day, would you live it any differently than any other day?  If we are living as Paul implores us to – clothed in Jesus Christ – then, no, we would not live today any differently.  Although deep down we know this should be our answer to the question, the reality for most of us is that we’d live the day very differently.

When we hear and ponder the words “wake up from your slumber” all of our minds can quickly come up with some things that we should wake up from.  Paul is talking about our faith in today’s passage and if we limit it to that topic, even then we could all come up with a thing or two.  Or more.  Even though we know deep down… we procrastinate, we think “tomorrow…”, we…  Just like that exercise regimen or that diet plan, we say we will get to that at the start of next week and a month later we still have not begun to read our Bible each morning or to pray each night before heading off to sleep.

Paul writes, “our salvation is nearer now…”  While this is absolutely true, too many of us fail to live like it is true.  Even the greatest of saints alive today could name a thing or two that would better or more fully “clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ”.  Surely we can too.  May we step out into the light and surely and steadfastly “put on the armor of light” as we live out our faith each and every day.


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Work

Reading: John 17: 1-5

Verse Four: I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You have Me to do.

It was quite a night for Jesus and His disciples.  They gathered together one last time.  It has been a full night: the Passover meal with the institution of communion added in; the washing of the disciples’ feet; the predictions of denial and betrayal; and, the promise of the Holy Spirit.  Three chapters in John are dedicated to Jesus’ farewell discourse.  And then Jesus prays.  These are His last words in John before He is arrested in the garden.  This prayer us our reading today.

In verse four, Jesus says, “I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You have Me to do”.  He has completed the work God gave Him to do.  The work encompasses teaching us what to do as disciples of Jesus Christ.  As a good teacher, Jesus taught by example.  His work included teaching how to live as a child of God in a fallen world.  This certainly helps us see the world and those in it as God sees them, not as the world sees them.  Jesus’ task also included showing us how to be at work in the world.  This meant feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the orphans and widows, caring for the sick, welcoming the stranger and the outcast.  It is being the very hands and feet of Jesus in our world.  The work also included healing.  This too is part of our work.  We pray for other’s physical healing.  We offer words of comfort and encouragement and lift up prayers for emotional and spiritual healing.  We also work to bring healing and restoration by fighting to end injustice and oppression and prejudice when and where we can.  All of this is the work Jesus completed when here on earth.  It is the work He commands us to continue.

Verse three reads, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent”.  Eternal life comes only through knowing God and Jesus Christ.  We come to know Him n the Word.  We come to know Him through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We also come to know Him through those we encounter in the world as we work as His hands and feet.  May we know Him well today in our study, in our prayer time, in our encounters with the Spirit, and in those we meet.


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Clothe Ourselves Well

We are often concerned with what we wear.  We like to look good or at least be presentable!  If our hair is a little wild or our make-up a little smudged, we neaten it up a bit.  Many will give themselves a quick once over in the mirror to make sure they can be seen in public.

In our reading from Colossians, we are also instructed to put on more than clothes each day.  We are also called to put on compassion and kindness and humility.  These traits help us to see others as God sees them and to treat all as worthy of God’s love and of our love.  They help us to see the person and not their circumstances.

We are also called to put on gentleness and patience.  These two traits help us to treat people as God would treat them.  When we are gentle and patient we understand that some people require more time and attention than others and we are willing to offer this.  They help us to invest both deeply and long term in others so we can build relationships.

And we are called to forgive as God forgives us.  This encompasses two main components: there is no limit to how many times to forgive and it is a gift freely given with no strings attached.  People who are in need often walk a hard path in life.  It is easy to stumble along this path.  Clothing ourselves with forgiveness allows us to give mercy and encouragement over and over and over.  This shows we are in it for the long haul.

Lastly we are called to cover all of these traits in love.  It binds the other traits together in the perfect unity of the love of Jesus Christ.  This love of Christ must be what motivates all the others as well.  We cannot be compassionate, kind, … without the love of Christ being the driving force.  Without love the other traits will falter and fail.  May we clothe ourselves well this day so that all we meet can see Jesus Christ within us and experience His love shining forth from inside of us.

Scripture reference: Colossians 3: 12-14