pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Well Known

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse One: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

There is a reason Psalm 23 is the most well-known Psalm of the 150 we find in the Old Testament. It is realistic in its look at our relationship with God. The writer is not being beseiged on all sides or being slandered by a host of evil doers. The psalmist is not lamenting multiple personal losses nor has he committed a string of sins. It is simple and straight forward. Reading or praying through the Psalm brings reassurance and comfort. It acknowledges our dependence and reliance on God. Like many passages in the Bible, it is the ideal. It is not always our reality.

Verse one begins the Psalm. It reads, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”. If we trust fully in God and His blessings in our lives, we will not want. This is the ideal. But the reality is that the voice of the world tells us we need more and newer and better. Therefore it is a battle to be content. God does desire to lead us “beside still waters” but that incessant voice of the world says to do more, to climb higher, to indulge in life. God calls us to times of Sabbath and rest as a part of our normal routine. It is there that we reconnect with God.

God wants us to walk “paths of righteousness” and most of the time I believe we do. Occasionally we stumble into sin but the Holy Spirit is quick to realign us to God’s will. Thank you Holy Spirit. In life, at times we will experience loss and trial – the valleys – but God always remains present, bringing us comfort. Knowing that God will be there in both the present trial and in each that comes allows us to have no fear.

Verses five and six are about God blessing us. Our cup usually is full and even runs down all around us at times. Maybe it is because we are content and trust in God that it seems like our cup overflows. Or maybe it just does. Indeed, goodness and love pour out from God so it feels as if they were always following us. His love and goodness are just always there. Because of God’s love and grace, we can dwell with Him forever. It is a beautiful place to be. Thanks be to God for His Word that blessed and encourages us. Amen.

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Rejoice in Blessings

Reading: Psalm 4

Verse Seven: “You have filled my heart with greater joy then when their grain and new wine abounds”.

Funny thing, but you can always find someone who has more or better or newer. If you just drove off the lot with the bright new shiny car of your dreams, someone somewhere is seconds later driving off another lot with the same car plus one more upgrade. Inevitably you will see them later in the day. You are delighted in your new salary until you pass the water cooler and hear someone else telling of their better raise. You are proud of your team’s victory until you hear of a team with a more impressive title. That trophy loses some of its shine. Such is the way of the world. When we chase after things that do not last or that rust and decay, then we will ever be seeking the latest and greatest next thing. In our passage, this is they with “grain and new wine” abounding. All is good until they see someone with more grain or newer wine.

Even as a follower of Jesus, at times we can fall into the longing for more or better trap. Even David writes to God, “How long will you turn my glory into shame”? He also notes that many are asking, “Who can show us any good”? At times we can feel sorry for ourselves or our lot in life. At times we can long for other things. We can even be critical of others and what they have as a way of alleviating our feelings of being less.

Into all if this David offers some wonderful words of hope and faith. He knows as we know: “The Lord will hear when I call”. God hears our prayers. He goes on to encourage us to “trust in the Lord”. For those who question or doubt, he offers a request to God: “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord”. Turn to God, put our hope in God alone. In doing so it is a turning away from the things of the world.

One last word that David offers is a wonderful practice for us today. In verse seven he acknowledges, “you have filled my heart with greater joy”. It is an acknowledgement of God’s blessings in his life. It is an awesome way to begin each day. Writing down and giving thanks for yesterday’s blessings is a great way to help us be joyfully content in this world and to remind ourselves of God’s great love for us. It is a practice I encourage you to do daily. In this time and place, may we recognize and rejoice in the many blessings that God gives us each and every day. Then we too will “lie down and sleep in peace”.


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Love and Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse One: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”.

In today’s Psalm, there is a connection between unity and blessing and anointing with oil. The opening verse begins this relationship, stating, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”. Who is it good and pleasant to? Certainly to God but also to the community of faith itself. Living in harmony and unity is how God intends our churches to be.

The psalmist goes on to compare this type of living to an abundant anointing. The overflow of oil is obvious and extravagant – much like the love that pours forth from a community of faith living in unity with each other and with Jesus Christ. This anointing is not the slightest dip of the finger that traces a thin line of a cross on someone’s forehead. It is a pouring out of blessing that runs down the face and through the beard and onto the clothes. The anointing in the Psalm is a thorough and complete blessing that is obvious for all to see.

When people walk into our churches and communities of faith, do they sense and feel unity that pours forth, overflowing like the oil on Aaron’s beard and robes? Does the love and care for one another and for the stranger in our midst burst forth like this oil? Or is there just a hint of unity and love, that like that thinly traced cross that can be seen if one really looks?

The love and unity present in our faith communities should be obvious and extravagant and generous. It should freely flow out to and over all who enter our community. The Psalm closes with, “there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore”. May our love and unity flow out like the oil in today’s Psalm, blessing all who enter our midst.


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Love at Work

Reading: Psalm 107: 17-22

Verses 19 and 20: “They cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth the word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave”.

The psalmist recognizes the foolish behavior of some and identifies the consequences that came with poor choices. During our lives we have seen many people make poor decisions and we ourselves have made our share as well. After suffering because of their or our iniquities, there comes a point of admitting the error of our ways and turning to God for help. Verse 19 reads, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble”. It is a cry filled with both pain and hope. Pain because of the regret of ending up in such a place. Hope because we know that God is faithful and true.

Verse 20 bears this out: “He sent forth the word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave”. God responds to the cry for help and restores those in need. For the psalmist, the ‘word’ could come through the Spirit or it could come through the voice of the prophet. For the Christian, the word could also come from the Holy Spirit or it could come from the ‘Word’ – Jesus himself. The net result is the same: God brings healing and rescued from the grave. This could literally be the grave or it could represent being saving from eternal damnation.

Sometimes we observe this cycle of sin, suffering, conviction, repentance, crying out, healing/rescue and sometimes we experience it ourselves. In both cases, we are privy to seeing God’s hand at work over and over. Because of this we come to know God as steadfast and faithful. We come to know God’s love and mercy as unending and as a blessing for all. And we come to the place where we know God will never let us go. From here we begin to understand the depth of God’s love. It is a beautiful and wonderful thing. It is a love that we are called to share with others. May it be so today.


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Grumble, Grumble

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verses 4-5: “The people grew impatient… they spoke against God and against Moses”.

“Spoke against” is code for complained. For any parent who has gone on a long road trip with kids, you have gotten to this point. No matter how many snacks, no matter how many movies, no matter how many coloring books and games – you get there. Your answer to the 100th “Are we there yet?” is not any more satisfactory than your answer was the first time, and the complaining begins. Inevitably it spreads.

God has provided His chosen people with food and water day after day. He has led them safely day after day. He has parted the sea and then drowned all the Egyptians. Through the years your clothes and your sandals have not worn out. And yet this day they get to complaining. It started small but has become a roar. It may be that they’ve been by this sea before. It may be that this journey has been a lot longer than it could have been. But the people’s disobedience has caused God to say “one more time around the desert” more than once. They have wandered longer than needed solely through their own sin.

When we get to the point of complaining, our memory goes a bit defunct. We too forget how God had cared for and fed and led us. We forget how God has accepted our repentance over and over, always offering forgiveness. We forget all those times when God rescued us and guided us through. Instead of using all of our experiences with God to draw strength and as a reason to seek God, like children, we complain. Complaining is dangerous. The Israelites encountered some snakes that snap their memories back into place and lead them to repent and to seek God’s help.

God does not send snakes when we complain. The poison that we bring into our relationship with God does enough damage. It separates us from God. It sometimes even ramps up the complaining. In those moments when we are tempted to begin to grumble at God, may we instead take a breath and reflect on God’s presence and blessings in our life and then go to God with a prayer of thanksgiving. Then we can humbly and honestly come to God with our petitions and our prayer made from a good heart will be holy and pleasing to God. God is good. Trust.


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Sharing the Good News

Reading: 1st Corinthians 9: 16-23

Verse 22: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some”.

Paul had a very strong commitment to the gospel. He felt an amazing drive to share the good news of Jesus Christ with as many as he could. In today’s passage we get a glimpse of his commitment and drive. Paul opens by sharing why he preached the gospel. He is “compelled” to preach because he was personally chosen by Jesus. Paul even says, “work to me if I do not preach”. He has been entrusted with this wonderful gift and he almost cannot comprehend what it would be like to not preach Jesus. He even sees his reward for following his call to preach as the opportunity to continue to preach. In Paul preaching the gospel we find a man doing a “job” that he absolutely loves.

Paul transitions in verse nineteen to the “how” he preaches the gospel. He opens by saying that he became a “slave to everyone”. In a time when a slave was totally bound to ones owner, this was a big statement. But this is how Paul saw himself and his commitment to share the gospel. In the same way that Jesus met people right where they were at to minister to them, so too does Paul. To the Jew, he preached like a Jew. To the gentile, he preached like a gentile. To those who are weak, he became weak. Paul used words and illustrations that were familiar to whatever person or audience he was preaching to so that they could better connect to his message. In the same way, Jesus often used parables centered around sheep, fishing, and farming because they were the primary economic activities of Israel.

Paul draws to a close with this statement: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some”. Paul is willing to do anything for the chance to share the gospel. You and I might not be the evangelist that Paul was, but each of us has been gifted by God with experiences that we can share and use to help bring others to Jesus Christ. How have you been uniquely gifted to share the good news? Paul concludes our passage today with these words: “I do all the this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in it’s blessings”. We too will be blessed when we share the good news of Jesus Christ. May we each find opportunities today to bring Jesus to another.


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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!