pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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What Love

Reading: Psalm 148: 1-6

Verse 5: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created”.

The opening stanza of Psalm 148 is where we begin today. It speaks of the heavens’ call to praise God the creator. The angels, sun, moon, stars, and sky are called to praise God because “he commanded and they were created”. The word was spoken, the decree given, and they all came into being. As we read of angels or look up into the starry sky, they indeed reveal God’s glory and power and might and draw out praise.

These verses remind me once again of the immense power of God. With a word, billions upon billions of stars were created. Not only that, God knows each by name (Psalm 147:4). This stirs up two thoughts in me. The first is my smallness. When I think of the stars and all else that God created, it is awesome. In comparison to that, I am small. And yet God formed me in the womb, knit me together with his own hands (Psalm 139:13). Even though I am small in the grand scope of creation, I am special to God. That is pretty amazing. And the same is all true for you.

The second thought it draws me to, especially at this time of year, is the thought that God – the creator of more than we can even begin to wrap our minds around – chose to take on flesh and walk among us. God incarnate did not hold onto his divinity but instead emptied himself, becoming like us so that through Jesus Christ we can find life abundant and life eternal. What love God has for you and me. What love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are higher than the heavens, deeper than the sea, and you are the creator of all things. And you dwell in my heart. Wow. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Amazing Love

Reading: 2 Samuel 18: 31-33

Verse 33: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! If only I had died instead of you”!

David experiences something no parent ever expects to experience. One of his children dies before he does. No one wants to bury a child. It just seems unnatural. For David, this is the second son he has lost. The first son who died, Ammon, was murdered by Absalom. Ammon had raped his half-sister, Absalom’s sister. David did not punish Ammon for the rape so Absalom took matters into his own hands, avenging his sister’s shame. This act also went unpunished by David. So it was not a total shock that the fiery and arrogant Absalom was leading a rebellion against his father, King David.

Even then David’s first reaction when it comes down to a fight is to try and protect Absalom. David’s army gains a hard-fought victory. It is a costly battle – over 20,000 die that day in the forest of Ephraim. News comes first of the great victory. The messenger is elated to share the news that the Lord has delivered all who rose up against the king. David cares not but only asks about Absalom. The messenger replies, “May the enemies… all be like that young man”, letting David know that Absalom was killed. The Word then says, “The King was shaken”. David went to mourn this personal loss, crying out, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! If only I had died instead of you”! The victory on the battlefield is meaningless to David because Absalom died. Like all parents, David wishes he could trade places with his child.

The love of a parent for a child is on vivid display here. The pure love models the love that God has for each of us. Yet it is pale by comparison. God sent His own Son to die for others. God sent Jesus knowing that Jesus would endure the cross to bring forgiveness of sins and hope for eternal life. God incarnate, God in the flesh, sacrificed Himself for the sinners. That death had to pain God the Father deeply. But the greater love for you and me prevailed. As a parent, this would be so hard to do – especially when He had the power to stop it. The atonement, the sacrifice, had to be made. It is an amazing love revealed in God the Father. Thanks be to God for the amazing love for all of His children, imperfect as we may be. Thanks be to God.


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Worship

Reading: Psalm 29

Verse Eleven: “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”.

Psalm 29 evokes images we read about in Isaiah 6 – the power and splendor and Majesty of God. God’s voice is central to this Psalm. By telling of the ways God uses His voice seven times the psalmist is evoking thoughts of wholeness and perfection. The use of seven also implies that God is in total and complete control of the earth and all that is in and on it.

It is within this all-encompassing power of God that we live our day to day lives in this earth. For me this brings emotions of attraction and awe to our God. In a way it reminds me of the power one can feel in a good thunder storm. I like to sit outside as the big storms draw near – seeing the bright lightning flashing and hearing and feeling the powerful rolls of thunder. It connects me to God.

The Psalm closes with a picture of God enthroned. God sits on the throne as king forever. This evokes ideas of worship in me. Imagining this scene, I am led to visualize bowing low before the throne, bringing my praise and adoration to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I too want to shout, “Glory”!

The psalmist closes with this line: “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”. It is a great reminder. As all-powerful and almighty as our God is, He still desires to be in an intimate and personal relationship with each of us. It is through this relationship that God blesses us. The God of all is also my God and your God. Amazing. Praise be to God!


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Creation

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34 & 35b

Verse 24: “How many are your works, O Lord! In your wisdom you made them all”.

Here in south central South Dakota it looks a little gloomy this morning. It is overcast and breezy and a little cool. Outside my window I can hear the chorus of many birds filling the morning air. Along the front and side of the house flowers are blooming, bursting forth with color. The leaves on the trees are vibrant colors of green and the lush grass sways rhythmically in the gentle breeze. The world outside testifies to today’s opening verse: “How many are your works, O Lord! In your wisdom you made them all”. Thanks be to God!

If one steps outside my little corner of the world, the diversity of God’s creation grows exponentially. God’s creativity and wisdom brought us thousands of kinds of birds and thousands of kinds of fish and animals and trees and crops and flowers and… and… and… God designed a world that nourishes itself with rains and floods and cleanses itself with fires. He created the seasons not just to bring us variety but also to guide patterns of life. Our world is really an amazing place, all under God’s loving care. As verse 30 says, “You send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth”.

As creatures if this creation, as stewards, we play a role in helping to love our earth and all its creatures. Verse 31 reads, “May the glory of the Lord endure forever”. May it indeed! To this end, may we each play our role well, caring for all that God has blessed us with this day. May our praises to God give thanks for this gift of life all around us and may we rejoice in God’s creation today!


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Love

Reading: Psalm 139: 13-18

Verse 13: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”.

God is a vast God.  God created the world and all living creatures.  God continues to be active and present each day.  God’s love is unending, God’s mercy always overflows, and God’s forgiveness pours forth from the throne unceasingly.  As vast as God is, though, God is also intimately connected to each of us as well.  Verse thirteen speaks of how God has been connected to each of us since our beginning: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”.  God personally formed each of us.  Personally.  God really loves and values each and every one of us as!

In the beginning of time God spoke a word and created.  God set stars among the sky that are so numerous that we cannot count them.  Yet God knows each one by name.  This is amazing power and might.  But is was all done at once.  God spoke and it was.  That’s power.  For you and me and for each of the billions and billions of people who have lived and who are now alive, God knit us together.  We are each formed by hand, so to speak.  We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, true, but we are also individually made.  Each of us is a unique creation of God’s mighty hand.  I think that is more amazing than any part of the creation story.

Even though we are formed by God’s hands, at times we separate ourselves from God.  We choose to sin or we may even deny our relationship with God.  We are imperfect and human.  God is not.  Into our sin, God sends grace and mercy and forgiveness.  God says, “I love you still”.  In those times of separation or denial, God continues to seek us out, to call out to us, to love us.  God could just create another person and hope for better results, but does not.  We are each the most important creation there is.  That’s how big God’s love is.

While I am thankful for this love, I know that it cannot stop there.  It is a love that must be shared with others.  This day, O Lord, may I be your love to another.  May it be so for all of us.  Amen.


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Extraordinary

Reading: Luke 2: 22-40

Verse 22: “Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord”.

Has something surprising happened when you did not expect it?  Can you remember a time when your routine was interrupted by something extraordinary?  When we are faithful, sometimes God shows up in the most unexpected or in the unlikeliest of ways.

On the last Sunday of each month our church has been offering a free meal to the community.  We have had some guests from the community but we’re not getting much response.  Our outreach meal was mostly feeding about 30-40 people from our church.  After six months of meals, I prayed for guidance and direction and was questioning if we should continue the meal.  Then God sent Alma.  She connected the offer of free food with the segment of our community with such a need.  For the December meal we fed over 120 people, most of them a direct result of Alma’s efforts.  God made things happen in an unexpected and surprising way.  Thanks be to God!

The time came for Mary and Joseph to present their child in the temple.  As was according to the Law, they went to the temple and took with them the needed sacrifice.  They were doing what thousands and thousands of devout Jewish parents had always done.  It was a simple trip to and from Jerusalem, maybe do a little shopping while we’re there kind of trip.  But as they are in the temple, God sends not one but two special people to speak about their son.  God suddenly bursts into the ordinary of life.

Our fellowship meal had become a monthly meal where people from our church gathered to eat, fellowship, and spend time together.  Although not really what it was designed for, it was a good thing that was happening.  And then Alma happened.

This is Mary and Joseph’s story too.  Travel, arrive, circumcise, present, offer sacrifice, … and then Simeon happens.  He tells them that Jesus will cause the rising and falling of many.  And then Anna happens.  She tells them that this child will be the redemption of Jerusalem.  God bursts in and Mary and Joseph are amazed.

Where is God going to burst into your life and your world in extraordinary ways?  Are you looking?  Are you praying?  Is the Spirit within you willing?  May the Lord our God do amazing things this day in our lives!


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Mary

Reading: Luke 1: 46-55

Verse 46: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.

Shortly after Mary received the news that she will carry the Holy One in her womb, she has gone to see Elizabeth, her cousin.  The angel told Mary that Elizabeth was also with child.  So Mary goes to see this thing for herself – old and barren Elizabeth with child.  Mary also goes because perhaps she senses that Elizabeth is someone she can share her news with as well.  After all, Mary’s news is not exactly news that she could go tell all her friends about.  When Mary and Elizabeth greet each other, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps at the sound of Mary’s voice and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth knows that Mary has been blessed and she herself feels blessed at being in the presence of the unborn Lord.  She also recognizes Mary’s faith, saying, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished”.

There is a deep understanding in these two women that God is at work in them and is about to accomplish the impossible in both of them.  It is from this place of understanding that Mary spontaneously offers her song.  It is a beautiful telling of both God’s deeds with and for Israel and of God’s work in her in particular.  Weaving these two together shows Mary’s understanding of how closely connected these two are – Israel and the birth of he child.  She begins by exclaiming, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.  Mary is joyful and exuberantly praises what God is doing in her.  Mary also recognizes the forever impact of what is happening, saying, “All generations will call me blessed”.  She is aware of what is happening and speaks with a wisdom and insight well beyond her years.  The Spirit is indeed at work in Mary.

The same Spirit desires to be at work in each of us.  The same God is capable of doing great and amazing things in and through us as well.  May we be as joyful and faithful as Mary when the Lord begins a good work in us!


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Seek God

Reading: Judges 4: 1-7

Verse Three: “They cried to the Lord for help”.

Sometimes we find ourselves crying out to God because of something we have done.  Sometimes it is because life has brought us a trial or circumstance.  In either case we find ourselves at the point the Israelites find themselves.  Their sin has led God to give them over to a foreign king.  King Jabin cruelly oppresses them.  They know why they are being oppressed and they take it for 20 years.  Finally they have had enough.  Verse three tells us that then, “They cried to the Lord for help”.  In life, w all get to this place at times.

The Israelites experience this cycle over and over again.  Temptation leads to sin, continued sin leads to punishment, punishment leads to prayer, prayer leads them back to God, God responds and restores.  The sins are usually following other gods, not following the one true God.  And always, always, always, God waits patiently for His people to return to Him.  And He loves them again like the transgression never even happened.  It is an amazing love and an amazing grace.

In faith the Israelites returned to prayer.  Through prayer the possibility of God’s action became real.  The possibility lead to expectation and hope.  Living into the expectation lead to action on their part.  Deborah called Barak and he gathered an army, expecting God to lead.  And He did.

We may be in the midst of something today.  The trial may come tomorrow or next year.  Maybe the Holy Spirit is convicting us of a sin in our life.  Whatever and whenever, our response should be the same as the Israelites.  May our faith in God lead us to our knees as we seek God’s hand to be at work.  May we expectantly live, being open to and aware of how God goes to work, seeking to come alongside of God to do our part, seeking His redemption or restoration or simply guidance.  God has an amazing love and an amazing grace to share with us, His children.  May we seek God today.


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Amazing Love

Reading: Matthew 26: 14-16 and 31-56

Verse 35b – And all the other disciples said the same.

Sandwiched in between Judas’ betrayal and the Garden scene in today’s reading is the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  In that upper room Jesus tells the disciples that one will betray Him.  It has already been arranged but all twelve still say, “Surely not I, Lord”.  Jesus goes on to take the bread and the cup, knowing that all twelve will betray Him.  Yes, knowing that all twelve, who have been with Him for three intimate and powerful years, would soon betray Him over and over, He still is willing to offer up His body and blood as a sacrifice for those twelve and for all of us.  What love Jesus had for these disciples and what love He had for you and I.  It is an amazing love.

In verse 31, Jesus again tells them that they all will fall away that very night.  Jesus quotes from the book of Zechariah, telling them that the sheep will scatter as the shepherd is struck down.  Peter responds that he will never fall away.  After Jesus lets him know that he will deny Jesus three times that very night, Peter declares that he will die with Jesus before he disowns Him.  All the others make the same vow.  In verse 35 we read, “And all the other disciples said the same”.

Jesus then takes the disciples with Him to the Garden of Gethsamane​ and asks them to pray with Him.  He takes the inner three a little farther in and asks them to keep watch because He is overwhelmed with sorrow.  As Jesus prays we see His humanity as He prays, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me”.  We also see His obedience to God as He prays, “Yet not as I will, but as You will”.  As Jesus wrestles with the emotions roiling inside of Him, He finds the disciples asleep again and again.  In their weakness, they are already betraying Him.

Jesus does not scold or rebuke or cast them aside.  He invites them to come along, for the hour is at hand.  He is arrested and indeed the disciples scatter like lost sheep.  Yet Jesus will continue to walk this path, beginning the journey to the cross.  He walks it for the twelve.  Yes, He walks it even for Judas, the one who betrayed Him to the authorities.  He walks it for each of us too.  What amazing love.


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Amazing Grace

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

In our passage today the people of God find themselves outside of relationship with God.  The vine that God planted and grew in Israel, that God allowed to prosper because of divine protection, is being attacked by their enemies.  The wall has been laid waste and the people perish.  The psalmist cries out to God on behalf of the people and asksGod to “awaken your might, come and save us”.  The Psalm ends with a promise not to turn away from God again, but it is couched in the if-you-save-us-first provision.

When the people were with God and God was with the people, life was good.  Israel grew and prospered.  But they allowed the people they conquered to influence them and soon enough Israel was bowing to false gods, to foreign idols.  And soon the Israelites looked up and realized that God was angry with them.  Maybe at the time their promise not to turn away again was sincere.  Maybe they did truly desire to return to full obedience to God.  Maybe they were desperate enough to mean what they pledged.

At times we too find ourselves in a bad spot.  As with the Israelites, it is because we have turned away and have chosen earthly idols over God.  It is because God is no longer our priority that we feel God is distant.  But God is only distant in our minds.  The living presence of God, the Holy Spirit, is still right there trying to work in our lives.  Unlike the Israelites, we have a personal connection to God through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We also have Jesus as our great high priest in heaven.  He who became flesh knows what it is like to be human and Jesus stands between God and us.

Like the Israelites, we too stumble and we too fail.  But thanks be to God for the Holy Spirit, the power of God dwelling in us, ever drawing us to be more and more like Christ.  God’s mercies are new every morning and God’s love never fails.  Praise be to God that this sinner is still loved and still welcomed always into the family of God.  For this amazing grace we say thanks be to God!