pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Our God Remains

Reading: Psalm 23: 1-4

Verse 4: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

Today’s passage is one of three this week that draw upon the image of shepherd and sheep. This is a common illustration in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In today’s passage, God is the shepherd and we are the sheep. The opening three verses detail the care that the shepherd provides. “I shall not be in want” – God will provide for our basic needs. “He makes me lie down” – God gives us periods of rest. “He restores my soul” – God brings us back into right relationship with Himself and with others in our lives. “He guides me” to learn more and more about God. God, our shepherd, offers good, loving care to each of us, the sheep of His fold.

Because of this daily and constant care, we come to trust in our God. Over and over and over our God has been present. This develops a deep sense of trust and reliance. Because of the trust, we will go where we would not. Because of the reliance, we turn quickly to God when we feel uncomfortable or are in unpleasant situations. Verse four reminds us of this. At times we walk in the “darkest valleys”. The loss of a loved one, a move to a new community, the ending of a relationship or employment, depression, anxiety, addiction – they all can feel like the darkest of valleys. These are not places we choose to go. But God chooses to go with us. In those dark valleys, God remains steadfast and true. Even there our God cares for, provides for, gives us peace and rest, even restores us. Because God remains with us always, we can always say, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. From our past experiences with our God, we can trust in Him.

Yesterday in church we sang a song called “You Never Let Go”. The pre-chorus contains these very words: “I will fear no evil, for my God is with me. And if my God is with me, whom then shall I fear”? Like Psalm 23, this song’s source, it is a great reminder that God remains present. The chorus goes on to remind us that “in every high and in every low” God never lets go of us. Whether today, tomorrow, or sometime down the road, when we find ourselves in the valley, may we always draw upon both the promises of God that we find in Psalm 23 and upon our own experiences of God’s steadfast presence, rejoicing in God’s love and care for us. You are our God. We will fear no evil. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, over and over you remain present. In the valleys you are there. When I stumble and sin, you remain present, calling me back into your presence. Even in the best of days, it is your hand that guides. Thank you, God. Remain ever present to me, each and every day. Thank you, God. Amen.

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focus

Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

Verse 36: “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”.

Advent begins this Sunday. It is a season of anticipation and expectation. It reminds us that we live in a now-not-yet space. Last week’s passage from Revelation reminded us that Jesus “was, is, and is to come”. This connects to our passage today and is a great pre-Advent thought. The Latin word that we derive “Advent” from is itself derived from the Greek word “parousia” – a term commonly used to describe the second coming of Jesus. Our passage today opens with signs that will proceed Jesus “coming in a cloud with power and great glory”. We are encouraged to “stand up and lift your heads” as we await His return. We are encouraged to stand up and declare our faith – to wish people a joyous “Merry Christmas” (instead of the secular “Happy Holidays”) and to focus ourselves and others on Jesus Christ during Advent.

Jesus uses the illustration of the fig tree to keep us focused and looking up and forward. Just as the buds indicate summer is near, we are to look for signs of the kingdom near us. Where can we see hope and love lived out this week? Where can we experience mercy and grace and forgiveness this week? Where can we be signs of the nearness of God’s kingdom, bringing hope and love, mercy and grace and forgiveness to other’s lives this week?

Our passage today closes with another good reminder. It ties back into the “stand up” idea. Maybe Jesus knew what Christmas would become. He warns us to be careful lest we become”weighed down” and filled with anxiety. As a parent I can remember times when I was weighed down and filled with anxiety over the gifts and reactions to them. It can be easy to go there. When our focus shifts away from God and His kingdom, then yes, the day will close upon us “like a trap”.

Instead, Jesus encourages us to “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”. Jesus must ever be our focus during the Advent season. Our eyes and heart must remain fixed on the Son of Man. Our lives will reveal what is truly in our heart and soul this Advent season. May Jesus Christ be what people experience in and through us.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to focus in on you alone this Advent season. Keep my eyes and heart on you and the coming of your kingdom. May my life reveal your Son as the focus of Advent and of Christmas. Amen.


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Deliverer and Redeemer

Reading: Psalm 34: 1-8 & 19-22

Verse 19: “A righteous man may have troubles, but the Lord delivers him from all of them”.

Today’s Psalm ties in well with the readings from Job that came to us the last two days. Verse one today’s begins with, “I will extol the Lord at all times”. The psalmist wants to continually praise the Lord and goes on to invite the afflicted to join him in this pursuit. Even on our bad days, the psalmist invites us to praise God.

Verse 4 continues with the ‘why’ we are to ever praise God: “I sought the Lord and He answered me”. God answers the faithful. Initially, we may not be aware of the answer, but we are always answered with God’s presence. This was the story with Job. Through both the psalmist’s testimony and through Job’s experience, we can trust that God will be with us too. Yes, trouble will find us at times, but we are encouraged to continue to praise the Lord.

When we continually praise the Lord we are ever reminded of God’s presence in our lives – in both the times of joy and in the times of sorrow. Both the good and the bad shape who we are, but the difficult times also remind us of our need for and dependence on God, helping us to be humble and to be aware of our own weakness. Our praise can be both for God’s power and might and also for the strength that He brings us in our weakness.

Verse 19 reminds us, “A righteous man may have troubles, but the Lord delivers him from all of them”. How true it is that we will all have our share of trials in this life! But even truer is God’s promise of presence and deliverance. The Psalm concludes with one more assurance: “The Lord redeems His servants”. Praise be to the Lord our God, our deliverer and our redeemer!

Lord of all time and place, thank you for being with me all the time, no matter my circumstances. You are with me in the good, in the bad, and everywhere in between. May I ever sing your praises with my words, my actions, and my thoughts, always bringing you the glory. Amen.


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Always Near

Reading: Job 42: 10-17

Verse 12: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first”.

Job’s trial has transformed him. He looks at life much differently than before. Job values life itself, all the small things, and everything in between. As his suffering began, Job acknowledged that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. It was matter of fact, simply how things were. But now Job has gratitude for all that the Lord does in his life. He is now personally connected to God.

We see the change in Job first as he prays for his friends. We recall that the three friends were not supportive or encouraging during the trial. Yet Job prays for them. For what? Probably to experience what he has experienced. The friends know God’s laws and rules, but they do not know God. Their interactions with Job show a lack of God’s love, compassion, and mercy. The second way we see Job transformed is in his interactions with his daughters.

Job gives each daughter a name that reflects God’s beauty in the world. Their names recall God’s grace and the blessings that He pours out on mankind. Job reflects this by also giving his daughters a share of the inheritance. In doing so, Job is making them equal to his sons. He is also giving them power and independence. Job’s daughters do not have to rely on others.

Job’s story is familiar to us. We have experienced pain and suffering in our lives. We have emerged closer to God. Yes, at times we too can doubt God and/or be angry at God. Often, like Job, we realize that we cannot nor ever will understand some of the ways of God. And like Job, we also experience God’s abiding presence, especially in the trials. Always, God is near. Thanks be to God.

God, you are the Creator of all things. Your power and might are far beyond my understanding. Your ways are far above my ways. Yet you are ever present, your love and care always surrounding me. You are ever present, both in the joys and in the sorrows. Thank you God for always being there. Amen.


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We’ve Always

Reading: Ephesians 3: 1-12

Paul begins our passage by reminding his audience of how he got to where he is at right now: by revelation of God.  He was met by Jesus on the road to Damascus, was struck blind for three days, and turned his life around 180 degrees.  Paul went from greatest persucutor of the church to the champion proclaimer of the church almost overnight.  It was a transformation that only God could lead.  The change God wrought in Paul gives him some authority to speak on God’s behalf.

But the news Paul is now sharing is difficult for many to accept.  At the core of this new church are ancient Jewish roots.  Almost all of the leaders and members of the church are Jews.  So, forever they have been “God’s chosen people”.  Of all the people in the world, only the Jews are chosen by God.  Since the time of creation, the Jews have been the one and only people of God.  This is one of the great “we’ve always done it this way” stories.  And now, Paul is preaching another story.

Today we still run into the “we’ve always…” stories.  A church I was at a while back ran a day center for the homeless and economically challenged.  Several people from the church volunteered at the center.  So, every once in a while, a volunteer would bring a guest with them to church.  This worked out OK because there was a buffer there.  But every so often a guest would respond to an invitation and would come on their own.  It was then that we learned who the few “we are God’s chosen people” followers were.  Yup, these guests are not just like us.  Yup, these guests are just like us: dearly loved children of God.

This was the revelation of God to Paul: all people are God’s people.  Red and yellow, black and white, rich and poor, white collar and blue collar, …  This is the continuing story of God.  It is, of course, the ultimate “we’ve always…” story.  Jesus loved and welcomed whoever came to Him.  There were no applications or interviews or screenings.  Come one, come all.  All were worthy of His love and care because all are children of God.  As Jesus said, “Go and do likewise”, may we also seek to be the light in the darkness to bring healing and salvation to the world in need.


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Rooted

Reading: Psalm 52

David is in the midst of a trial in Psalm 52.  King Saul has become crazed with jealousy and paranoia and is pursuing David to kill him.  David is on the run for his life.  He knows in his heart that he is in the ‘right’ and that God is with him, yet he faces this trial.  Despite being physically on the move, David states that he is like “an olive tree flourishing in the house of God”.  In the midst of this crazy pursuit by Saul, David remains rooted in his faith in the God he loves.

In the song “Always”, artist Kristian Stanfill sings, “My foes are many, they rise against me, I will hold my ground”.  In our life we can often relate to David’s trial and to the thoughts expressed in this song.  At times we can feel beset on all sides.  In these moments it can be easy or tempting to pull up the roots we have in God and to turn to other means to deal with the fear or pain or doubt or whatever else we are facing.

David wrote, “I will trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever”.  The songs says, “I will not fear, His promise is true, my God will come through always, always”.  In both we find the blessed assurance that God will always live us and will always be there for us.  For our part, we must stay rooted in God.

It can be hard to do this.  The song goes on to day, “Trouble surrounds me, chaos abounding, I will test in You”.  It is a faith deeply rooted in God that can rest in Him in the midst of a trial.  To be deeply rooted requires daily watering and fertilizing.  This day may we water our faith in the Word of God and allow it to permeate our faith, to fertilize it as its message sinks deep down into our soul and strengthens our faith.  May we do this day by day do that when the winds and rain of life come, our faith will be deeply rooted on the true foundation, Jesus Christ.


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Pray Always

Prayer is an integral part of our faith.  Paul encourages us to “pray on all occasions” and to always be lifting one another up in prayer.  Prayer strengthens both our faith and our connections to God and to one another.

Each Sunday we lift up in prayer the joys and concerns that people share on prayer cards.  Those in worship are encouraged to pray for these folks during the week ahead.  These requests and others that are received by e-mail are sent out each week to the prayer chain – a group of people who pray for these individuals during the week.

Because people share their prayer requests, there is a greater sense of care and concern within the body of Christ.  People ask one another how things are going, ask if there is some way they can help, and so on.  These interactions and the accompanying stories of how God has worked through prayer serve to illustrate how God is active in our lives bringing healing, lifting our burdens, and extending grace.  To share and talk about God’s presence and activity in our world builds us up in our faith.

Paul’s words to “pray on all occasions” can be put to good use with perfect strangers as well.  One can offer prayer for the police officer each time you pass by one driving in your car.  One can offer up a pray for the person who passes by in the ambulance or even as you hear the siren.  One can offer a quick prayer for the mom or dad struggling with their child in the store.  You can also easily be direct with your prayers.  If you encounter a harried grocery clerk or bank teller or gas station attendance, you can offer to pray for them.  Here too we can see God at work in powerful ways.

God so wants to be connected to us.  Prayer is our best opportunity to connect with Him.  So do pray often and on all occasions.   His ear is always open!

Scripture reference: Ephesians 6:18