pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Stories

Readings: Exodus 32: 1-6 and Psalm 106: 19-23

Key Verses:

Exodus 32:6 – He made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf.

Psalm 106:20 – They exchanged their Glory for the image of a bull.

In both passages, we have the story of the people departing from God to worship an idol made of gold.  True, Moses has been gone up the mountain a long time.  But the people did not worship Moses.  While Moses is up on the mountain, clearly the presence of God remains on the mountain.  The presence of God is right there in plain sight when the people and Aaron make another “god” to worship.

This is not a pretty story about what happened in the life of the chosen people and their relationship with God.  Yet it is recounted and retold over and over by these people and generations to follow.  Why?  For the same reason they tell and tell about the Passover, the parting of the sea, the fall of Jericho, the defeat of Goliath…  We remember and retell good and bad stories for the same reason: to remind us of God’s love and grace.  In the stories where we (corporate) are not faithful or where we have sinned, they remind us of God’s love in spite if our fleshy weakness.  In the stories where God provides or guides or redeems… we are reminded of God’s constant love and care for each of us.

There is great value in the telling and retelling of these stories where God is active and present in the lives of the people, always bringing comfort, guidance, peace, and, of course, love and grace.  But these stories are not just found in the pages of the Bible.  They are also found in the day to day living of our lives.  We each have stories to tell of when God rescued us, when God forgave us, when God redeemed us, when God loved us…  These too are powerful stories of God’s continuing presence and activity in the lives of His people.  They are stories we need to hear over and over.  They are also stories others need to hear.  Our faith is communal.  Our faith is a shared faith.  Today, who will we share our story with?

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God’s Promises

Reading: Exodus 32: 11-14

Verse 13: Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self.

The Lord’s anger with His people is mighty big.  Once again they have turned away and questioned and doubted.  Once again the people think Moses has abandoned then or has died, leaving them leaderless. Once again they turn to something other than the Lord.  Yet Moses asks, “Why should your anger burn against your people”?  Moses is a great advocate and prayer warrior for the Israelites, the people he leads under God’s direction and guidance.

Moses continues to convince God not to wipe these stiff-necked people off the face of the earth.  He begins his request with a reminder of God’s promises.  Moses says, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self”.  Moses is reminding God of the covenant promise that God himself made to each of these great men.  In essence, Moses is calling God out using God’s promises.  By bringing God’s focus to the love, the care, the relationships that led to the promises to make their descendants into a great nation, Moses defuses God’s wrath.

The pattern Moses uses is a pattern we too can use in our prayer life.  Many are the promises of God.  God promises to be our guide, our healer, our protector, our light, our love, our salvation…  We are promised that He will never leave or forsake us.  We are promised that His mercies never end and that we can be made new every morning.  These are but a sampling of what God offers to all who believe.  So when we find ourselves in the midst of trial or suffering, we too can call on the promises of God.  Our prayers for our lives and for others can be like Moses’ request.  We may not always see the answer right away, but we know that God is faithful and that He will respond.  We may not get the answer we want some of the time, but we are promised that God has good plans for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11).  At times, we trust into this as well.

“In everything, with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”. – Philippians 4:6


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Caught Up in Conflict

Reading: Exodus 17: 5-7

Verses 5 and 6: Walk on ahead of the people… I will stand there before you.

At times we have all experienced flaps and disagreements in our churches.  Generally speaking these conflicts are not over large theological issues.  These issues, for the most part, have been hashed out and settled as the different denominations have formed and defined themselves.  Today the conflicts tend to center around personal preferences and choices.  But some of the conflicts center around important and path-altering issues or decisions.  Such is the conflict Moses faces today, at least on the surface.

The central issue is the lack of water for the people and the livestock.  Water is an essential of life so it is a need, not a want or a personal preference.  But the issue is brought forth with much grumbling and a bit of complaining.  It is not an open and honest conversation.  Couched within the need is a questioning of both Moses’ leadership and God’s care for the people.  Conflict often has multiple layers to it.

Moses has some options on how he could handle the situation.  At first one can read some frustration into his words with God.  Moses could go to the grumblers and react back out of his emotional hurt.  But this does no good so he instead seeks out the one who can give him a little guidance and some empathy.  Moses turns to God and God gives him guidance, directions, and reassurance.  God instructs Moses to “walk on ahead of the people”.  He is instructed to take some elders along – wise and trusted leaders, not the grumblers.  ‘Gather some support around you’ is what God is saying here.  God then says, “I will stand there before you”.  God will be there with Moses.  Then strike the rock and water will pour out.  God will meet the need and He will be present for Moses, bringing him reassurance as God reinforces Moses’ leadership role.

Moses’ example gives us good steps to follow when we feel caught up in conflict.  Don’t take it personal, seek God as trusted friend and guide, proceed forward in God’s presence.  Doing so, we know that God is in our thoughts and decisions and that God is in control.


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Say It Well

Reading: Psalm 105: 37-45

Verse 45: …that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws.

This last section of Psalm 105 recounts the exodus from Egypt.  The Israelites left Egypt “laden with silver and gold” and headed out into the desert with a cloud for shade in the day and a pillar of fire for light at night.  God provided for their physical needs with quail and manna and He brought water from a rock.  God led them into a land that other nations had toiled over and developed and built up.  God blessed the chosen people on their exit from slavery in Egypt right up to their entrance into the Promised Land.

It is good for a people to tell their story.  This Psalm that would have been sung in worship reminds the people of what God has done for them out of His great love for them.  We too sing songs that remind us of our faith story.  Whether it is a classic like “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Amazing Grace” or if it is a more modern song like “Trading My Sorrows” or “Come As You Are”, we sing songs of praise to remember His love and His actions in our bigger faith story.  We may know, for example, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins but songs that remind us also remind us of His great love for us.

To be reminded encourages us and strengthens our faith.  It helps us to grow in and to deepen our relationship with God.  It is why we hug and kiss our spouse and children each morning and night, saying “I love you” each time.  They know it but it sure does us good to say it and to hear it.  It is the same when we sing praises to the Lord.  God may know we love Him and we may know God loves us, but it sure does us good to sing it.

There is also a second benefit.  After listing how God gave, God brought, God provided, … the psalmist writes, “…that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws”.  This is also why we must sing of His mighty acts and of His love for us.  It reminds us to say “I love you” back with how we live our lives.  May we say it well today.


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Look to the Lord

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6 and 16-22 and 45

Verse Four: Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.

Psalm 105 is a summary of Israel’s early history.  The opening lines are a call to give thanks and praise to God for all He has done for the people.  The story told in Psalm 105 is not necessarily pretty all the time.  There were times of slavery and abuse and hardship.  There was famine and hunger.  Normally we do like stories with some conflict in them because they keep our attention.  But why would the psalmist tell a story that had abuse and slavery and hunger in it?

Yes, it is the truth and, yes, it helps the Israelite people remember their history. But even more importantly, it reminds them of God’s presence.  For the Israelites, the chosen people, these stories represent the times God stepped forward and acted on their behalf – ending the famine, parting the sea, performing the miracles.  These stories remind the people of God’s love and care for them and they provide hope and promise for the future.

We have similar experiences with God in our lives.  We have events and situations where there was conflict or hardship or trial.  In these times we also have experienced God’s presence as He provided a way or brought us that peace beyond understanding or gave us the strength and courage to slay our giant.  Sometimes, though, we are hesitant to tell these stories because they show our imperfections or our struggles or our failures.  We do not always like to share these aspects of who we are.  Yet we need to share our stories of what God has done in our lives.  Just as the Exodus stories gave the Israelites hope and reminded them of God’s presence and promises, so too can our stories of when God came near give hope and promise to those we meet.  It is through the sharing of these stories and the impact they had on our faith and lives that we can help others to understand and practice the words of the psalmist: “Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always”.


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Reason to Praise

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-11 and 45b

Verse Four: Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.

The Psalm begins with encouragement to give our thanks to God and to sing our praises to Him.  In singing our praises, the psalmist instructs us to “tell of all His wonderful acts”.  For the Israelites, God had acted in mighty and dramatic ways.  As a people, they have many touchstone moments when God has actively intervened.  In most cases, these are positive experiences that are remembered and celebrated.  Sometimes these are national events like the Exodus story and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  Sometimes they are personal stories – like the story of David and Goliath.  These moments all recall God’s love for His chosen people and their response is to praise and worship God.

On occasion they are stories of correction and sometimes of consequences for poor choices or ungodly living.  Noah and the flood and the periods of occupation and exile are key reminders of what happens when the people stray from God and His love.  Yet each of these stories had a silver lining because in the end the people return to a God who continues to love them anyway.  This realization also leads to the praise and worship of God.

As we fast forward to 2017, we are also the people of God.  As we look back over the last 10, 20, or more years of our own faith journeys we too can see the God we love at work in our story of faith.  We too can “tell of all His wonderful acts”.  There are moments when God has moved and we have been led to our own promised land or when we have slayed our own Goliaths.  Our faith has grown in these times.  And there are our times of wandering in the dessert and times when Satan’s temptations did lead to sin.  In these times, God never gave up or abandoned us. We too remained loved and cherished by God.  We found redemption and came back into the great love of God.  God’s love always remains constant.  What a reason to praise!  All of these experiences, both the good and the bad, remind us to always “Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always”.


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Deeper

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-12

Verse One: O Lord, you have searched me and know me.

Although the Psalm is centuries old, it still speaks powerfully of the relationship we can have with our God.  When David penned this Psalm, he had matured in his faith and his position in life was pretty secure.  But in his youth he had been through periods of trial and testing, through times of fleeing and rebellion.  Through these experiences he developed a very intimate relationship with God.  The Psalm is a celebration of that relationship.  It also calls out to us to each seek an intimate relationship with God.

Verse one begins with the basis of the relationship: “O Lord, you have searched me and know me”.  It is not a snoopy or creepy knowing – it is a lovely and caring knowing.  God is both all-knowing and ever-present.  But it is a sign of intimacy when we choose to live into these facts – it shows we are all in too.  The idea that God knows the words of our hearts and minds before they come to our tongue reveals that God is all in.  Just as much as we need God, God desires a deeply personal and intimate relationship as well.

Verse seven begins with “where can I go…” and “where can I flee…” questions.  David is not seeking to hide from God or to take a break from the relationship.  He is celebrating that God is everywhere.  David knows that no matter where he goes and no matter where life may bring him, God will be there.  God is in the heavens and in the depths and on the far side of the sea.  Even in the darkness God is fully present.  No matter where he goes, David finds that God is right there for him.

God invites us into an intimate, deeply personal relationship.  God seeks anf offers transparency and honesty and an all in commitment to the relationship.  Even though we may wander from time to time and drift to the edge on occasion, God is always pursuing us, always seeking to deepen our relationship.  May we each pursue this relationship with our God and King.  This day may we move deeper into the depths of God’s love.