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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In All Things

Reading: Philippians 4: 4-7

Verse 7: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ”.

Paul writes these encouraging words to the Philippians from prison. Even though he is in chains, his outlook and attitude are the same as always. Paul lives into the words he writes; he prays that the people of Philippi do too. The living Word of God encourages us to do so as well.

Paul begins our passage today with “Rejoice!” twice. In all cases, good or bad, Paul encourages us to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in the One who is ever present in our lives. Because we rejoice, we are not always anxious or worried. This leads to the gentleness that Paul implores us to exhibit. Be at peace. “In everything”, by prayer, present our requests to God. If something is on your heart, bring it to God in prayer.

Bringing all to God in prayer accomplishes at least four things. First, it helps us recognize that we are dependent upon God for much in this life. We can do very little on our own. Second, it deepens our relationship with God. By being honest and intimate with God, we are building that connection. Third, it helps us live in a place of humility. The first two things fight against the arrogance that seems to be so natural. And, lastly, it brings us peace as we turn the cares and worries of life over to God.

In verse 7 Paul writes, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ”. Yes, the peace that settles over us is of God and, therefore, it does transcend our human understanding. It is a peace that stills the anxiety. It is a peace that brings the gentle demeanor. It is from this place of peace that God guards our hearts and minds. God guards us against the lies and slings of Satan and the world. We rest in our place in God’s kingdom, knowing that in Jesus Christ we are blessed with the salvation of our souls. It is a very good place to be.

In all things, may we trust in the Lord, finding peace for our lives and hope for our souls. Amen.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, may I always turn all things over – the joys and rejoicing as well as the trials and sufferings. In all things, you are my God, my hope and peace. Amen.


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His Love and Care

Reading: Isaiah 40: 3-11

Verse Three: “Make straight in the wilderness a highway for the Lord”.

Have you ever been lost, either physically or spiritually?  Have you ever lost your way because of a storm?  Maybe it was an actual storm – a good blizzard perhaps – that you can remember being lost in.  Before long you lose your sense of direction and the safest thing to do is to hunker down and wait it out.  At some point the snow and wind subside and, more often than not, the white-covered world that is revealed is beautiful to behold.

Sometimes our storm is not a physical one, but what we feel is very similar.  The storm could be the loss of a loved one or of a job; it could be the loss of a special relationship or the loss of a home.  It can be depression or anxiety or stress that rises up to an all-new level.  Many things can rise up and swirl around us to the point of feeling lost and not able to see where to go or how to proceed forward.  Often we want to hunker down at these times as well.

In these stormy times in our lives, Isaiah calls out to us as well: “In the desert, prepare the way for the Lord”.  He invites us to open our hearts and minds for God’s presence and activity in our lives.  In the midst of the storm, Isaiah encourages us to “Make straight in the wilderness a highway for the Lord”.  He is encouraging us to allow what God desires to do: to lead us out of whatever we are in, out of our proverbial wilderness.

Our passage closes with these words: “He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart”.  It is both a beautiful image and a promise from God.  God loves us dearly and so desires to let us know and feel that love.  This day may we open ourselves up to His love and care, resting in our good shepherd, trusting Him to guide us through all that life brings our way this day and every day.


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One True God

Reading: Exodus 32: 1-6

Verse One: When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming…

Over and over and over again, God has provided for and protected the Israelites.  Whether it was opposing armies or food or water or which way to go, God has been there.  Moses has been their leader through it all.  He has led by example and has always been faithful to the Lord God.

As we grow and mature in our faith, we come to trust in God and His presence and protection.  Our experiences when God had been there over and over builds our trust in Him and we come to believe that God will be there again and again.  But this can be such a fragile balance.  Something happens and doubt or fear or anxiety creeps in.  We turn to something other than God to curb our doubt…  we ignore what is going on… we cope in some unhealthy way.

We can relate to the Israelites’ choice in our passage today.  Moses has been gone a long time.  A LONG time.  They fear going into the presence of God.  They look up and see the “thick darkness” that Moses disappeared into.  We too can feel that our lives have slipped into such a place.  We can feel as if God were absent during these times.  But God is always present.  Like the Israelites, it is we who turn away.

In Moses’ absence, the people turn to Aaron.  He is #2 in command.  Aaron is a little less steady, a little less assured, a little less connected to God.  He wants to be a pleaser.  He fashions a golden calf to soothe the people’s fears and doubts.  The people willingly worship this idol – they are glad to be rid of their feelings of discomfort.  Our inner self can relate well.  Like Aaron, our inner self is willing to take over, to just do something to solve or at least alleviate our situation.  Like the people, our inner self is willing to do whatever to not feel those bad feelings.  We turn to other or self instead of turning to God and trusting in Him.

In our lives, when the storm clouds rise or when worry or doubt or… well up, may we turn to the only One who can save and protect – our One true God.  May we trust in God alone.


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Present

Reading: Exodus 14: 19-31

Verse 31: When the people saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people put their trust in Him.

In today’s passage the Israelites experience the final detachment from Pharaoh and his army.  Fear and doubt has again suddenly consumed the Israelites.  They even uttered to Moses, “It would have been better for us to serve in Egypt than to die in the desert” (Exodus 14:12).  Moses told them to stand firm and see the deliverance of the Lord.  Trust – trust in God.

God does indeed deliver Israel!  The angel and pillar of cloud form a protective barrier and God parts the sea.  The Israelites cross over on dry land but when the Egyptians follow God stalls them out and the waters return.  Verse 21 records, “Not one of them survived”.  What the people saw as a huge situation that quickly led to doubt and fear, God saw as an opportunity to deliver His people.  God intervened on their behalf to save His chosen people, whom He dearly loves.

God had led them out of slavery and had even blessed their exit.  He had guided them to this point, yet fear and doubt rose up quickly.  God’s mighty act of deliverance in the Passover was still very fresh in their minds, yet they quickly abandoned their faith.  We too can be much like the Israelites.  We can walk in close connection with God for days and days or even for years and something arises that makes us question or doubt and our faith almost evaporates.  The doubt or fear or anxiety or whatever quickly dominates our thoughts.  And then God still steps in and begins to work in our situation and delivers us too.  We look back and wonder why we ever questioned, why we doubted, why we didn’t just continue to rely on God.

The Israelites are delivered!  It was a powerful experience of God’s might.  Verse 31 tells us, “When the people saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people put their trust in Him”.  This too is an experience like the Passover, one they will tell over and over down through the generations.  Our experiences with God delivering us can be such moments as well.  May we also remember when God was present and acted in our lives, so we can retell and retell the story so that our faith and trust grows and grows.  God is ever present in our lives.  May we live into this more and more each day.


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Hold Tightly

Reading: Genesis 32: 22-31

Verse 24: Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.

God directs Jacob to return home.  He is being led to return to the family that he tricked and stole from.  This worries Jacob.  As he nears home, he sends all his family and all he owns across the stream and he remains alone on the far side.  The scene is set for some alone time with God.

At times we find ourselves in a similar situation.  We are returning to or going someplace that causes us some fear or worry or anxiety.  We may be the cause of it or it could be from things outside of us that are causing the uneasiness.  Yet we know we must go.  Here we too seek some guidance or direction or encouragement from God.  We want to know that we do not go alone.

“Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him till daybreak”.  As turmoil stirs around inside Jacob, a man comes and wrestles with him.  It could be an angel.  It could be a man sent by God.  It could be God.  Whatever the case, Jacob realizes that this is a powerful foe and this leads him to demand a blessing.  He has already sent quite a blessing across the stream – his wives and children, his large herds and flocks, and his many possessions.  Yet he demanded more.  God has blessed him and now he asks for more.
In our times of trial and stress, we who have also been blessed often go to God asking for more.  Sometimes God will allow us to do a bit of wrestling too.  God will allow us to sit in our feelings of uncertainty and fear because it leads us back to Him.  He wants to know if we too will hold on tightly.  Jacob does not give up in the wrestling match and he is rewarded.  He receives a new name – Israel – the one who struggled with God.  Jacob departs the scene knowing that God is with him.  It is now a hopeful future for Jacob.

At times we too will wrestle with God.  We too will struggle and ask the “why” questions.  In this story we see that God is faithful to those who hold tightly to Him, to those who remain steadfast.  May we ever hold tightly to our God, trusting in His blessings.


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Bethel Moments

Reading: Genesis 28: 10-19

Verse 15: I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.

Jacob has had a long day of travel.  As darkness sets is, he grabs a rock for a pillow and lays down on the ground.  He is happy for his spartan bed.  Perhaps you too have been there.  You have driven a long ways that day and are happy to finally have a place to lay your head for the night.  You’ve gone on a little further just to get a little closer to your destination.  Jacob is just the opposite: he has gone on a lot further to get away from Esau.  He had just stolen his father Isaac’s blessing from Esau and he is fleeing to Haran for protection.

In our passage today, we soon find that God is blessing this whole adventure.  In the middle of the night, Jacob awakens to angels ascending and descending a set of stairs, coming and going from the earth.  Then God speaks to Jacob from the top of the stairs to heaven.  God gives Jacob this great promise: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go”.  What reassurance!  God also adds that He will give Jacob and his descendants this land to live in.  God closes this exchange with another promise: “I will not leave you until I have done what I promised”.  In the morning Jacob awakens and builds a pillar and names this place ‘Bethel’ – house of God.

Like Jacob, we too have our Bethel moments.  We too have come to the place of weariness and have laid down our heads, happy for the day to draw to a close.  We have carried our burdens or worries or anxieties with us and are content to just find a little rest.  And then God has shown up.  Sometimes we have prayed and sought God out and other times He has just shown up.  Sometimes it is God and sometimes it is one sent by God.  God may not remove all of our burdens… but He (or His agent) shoulders some of the load and holds our hand as we begin to move forward.  There is no question that God has been present and we have been blessed by His care and love.  This day may we take the opportunity to thank God for our Bethel moments and to rejoice in His presence in our lives.