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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Peace Be with You

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 19: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you'”!

The disciples are gathered together, behind locked doors, mourning the loss of Jesus. When one of a close group dies, this is common behavior. There is comfort in grieving together, in knowing you are not alone. Others just outside the circle also come and visit, offering support and presence and love to the group. But the group of disciples are also afraid. They are hiding behind closed doors because they fear what the Jews might do to them. Mary Magdalene has seen the risen Christ and Peter has seen the empty tomb. What all this now means must still feel a bit unsettling to them. Life will not be the same for the disciples.

At times of loss we too experience some of these same emotions and thoughts. While we may not fear other people, we may have a desire to hunker down and shut out the world. Sometimes there is a desire to visit familiar haunts or the scene of the tragedy. After a tragic loss in college I wanted to spend time at her house with her family. Then, after the funeral, I spent lots of time at the grave site. In those places I could feel a palpable desire to remain close. Even though I knew she was gone and life would never be the same, the desire was there. Being near brought a sense of comfort to my inner turmoil and unease over the future and my ‘now what?’ questions.

The disciples must have been feeling and thinking at least all of this when the risen Jesus appears among them. Jesus begins with some simple words: “Peace be with you”. Peace – that is the feeling needed in this situation. Peace – a sense of normalcy and an absence of worry and fear and doubt. Peace is surely what the disciples and followers of Jesus needed.

Jesus offers us the same thing. Whether the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or marriage, an unexpected move, a sudden illness, or many other possible scenarios, we can find ourselves driven to a place of sorrow or insecurity or discomfort. Into all that life can bring, Jesus desires to come and be present to us. There He will say, “Peace be with you”. When we need Jesus the most, He will be there most powerfully. In the hour of need, turn to Jesus and cry out to Him. He will bring you His peace.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being my peace again and again. I can trust in you. Help me to be a vessel of your peace too – bringing your peace to those in need. Amen.


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A Day to Wait

Reading: John 19: 38-42

Verse 40: “Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen”.

When Jesus breathes His last breath, three hours of darkness descends upon the land. After the three hours of darkness passed, Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for Jesus’ body. Nicodemus comes to help, bringing with him myrrh and aloes for the body. “Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen”. These two men, leaders in the Jewish religion, then place the body in a nearby tomb – one we believe Joseph bought for himself. From the other three gospels, we know that some of the women who followed Jesus were also there. Mary and Mary Magdalene are named in two of the gospels.

None of Jesus’ disciples are there. They are fearful of being associated with Jesus. They are afraid of what the Jewish leaders might do to them. Joseph and Nicodemus are likely both members of the ruling council. They do not seem too concerned about being associated with Jesus. The events that have unfolded the past two days must have brought them to the point of believing in Jesus. They most certainly did not know what was going to happen Sunday morning. Joseph and Nicodemus were simply showing love to Jesus by caring for His body.

Then Saturday happens. It was the Sabbath – the day to worship God and to rest. For all who had followed Jesus and who had professed faith in Him as Lord and Savior, Saturday was a “now what?” kind of day. I doubt that they praised God much that day. I doubt they did much except pray and think about what had just happened in light of the three years they had just spent with Jesus. It must have been so hard to reconcile these two. For all of Jesus’ followers, this day must have been awful. It was a day full of why?, what if?, how? type of questions.

It is a hard day for us to sit in the moment, knowing that tomorrow is coming. We know the end of the story. Yet today can be a day of questions and reflection for us too. But our questions are of a difference type. How has Jesus changed my life? Why did Jesus pick me as a follower? What if I lived out my resurrection faith more fully? May your Holy Saturday be blessed as you reflect on Jesus this day.

Prayer: Lord, may I be present to you today. May I find you in the moment, in-between the cross and the empty tomb. May I come to know you better today. Amen.


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Turn to God

Reading: Psalm 63: 6-8

Verse 6: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night”.

In his time out in the desert David appears to have some trouble sleeping. Verses 9 and 10 indicate that David is out in the desert because his enemies are pursuing him. Maybe this Psalm is written when King Saul was hunting him down or maybe it is later, perhaps when Absalom was leading a rebellion. Both were times when David fled into the desert or wilderness to find refuge. While none of us have probably fled because someone was trying to kill us, most of us have experienced trouble sleeping because of some trial or hardship or difficulty.

When I have had trouble sleeping, I have tried all sorts of remedies. I have tried, of course, counting sheep. I have read a book or played a game on my phone. I have tried listening to music. I have gone for a walk. In those times when a stressful decision lies ahead or when something else big is on my mind, I can turn to worry or fretting or… Today’s Psalm is a good reminder to me of what my first option should be: prayer. David writes to God, saying, “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night”. David turns his thoughts to God. We do not know if he turned over his worry or if he sought God’s guidance or if he simply admitted his need for God’s help. But we do know that he went to God first in his time of need. It is a good reminder to us to seek God first and not as a last resort.

Because his trust is in God, David can rejoice. In the next two verses we read of how David sings to God and of how he feels upheld by God. When we turn to God we too will experience God as our help. Like David, this leads us to rejoice in the ways that God is and has been present in our lives. In future times of trial and distress we will more quickly turn to God as time after time we learn that God upholds us too. Our soul learns to first turn to and to cling to God in our times of need. God’s faithfulness and love and care build our trust in God.

On those nights when sleep evades us, may we turn to God first. If we cannot name the fear or worry or… to offer up a prayer, we can turn to the Bible to draw near to God. If we can name it, may we give it to God and trust that God will be present and will be our help.

Prayer: Lord, when the storms rage or when the attacks of fear or doubt or worry come, be my refuge. Draw me first to you. Remind me of David and his example that you would be my shelter in the shadows. Thank you God! Amen.


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Do Not Be Afraid

Reading: Genesis 15: 1-12 & 17-18

Verse 12: “Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him”.

Abram has just gotten back from rescuing Lot. The Lord appears to him and says, “Do not be afraid”. God tells Abram that He is Abram’s shield and his reward. Abram’s mind immediately goes to children. Children, often many children, were the sign of being blessed by God. If a couple did not have children, then they had displeased God or had sinned against God. Abram and Sarai were older and without children. What reward could possibly come for Abram? He was already resigned to giving his inheritance to a relative. Abram pointedly asks God, “What can you do for me since I am childless”? This is both a very honest and a practical question. It is also a question of faith.

In response God gives clarity to the promise He made in Genesis 12:2 to make Abram the father of many nations. God tells Abram, “a son coming from your own body will be your heir”. God then shows him the stars in the heavens and tells Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. Abram believes God and he is called “righteous”. God then goes on to promise Abram the land that he is now living in as a foreigner. One day all this land will belong to his descendants. Because God is God, one day all this will come to fruition. But in the moment, Abram still questions. He says to God, “How can I know…”? The emphasis is on “know”. I am old and tired and weary and living in a foreign land. How can I know that all of this will come true? Here is where it becomes a question of faith.

We find ourselves at this point too. We come to places or times in life when we feel tired and weary, maybe old too. We’ve heard and often have experienced the promises and presence of God in the trials and sufferings. As we enter that place or time again our mind asks Abram’s question: how can I know that you, God, will be with me and will get me through this?

God instructs Abram to prepare a sacrifice. He does so and then a strange thing happens. We read, “Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him”. God removes all distractions, even light, and focuses Abram in on God alone. In the intervening verses that we did not read, God foretells the time in slavery in Egypt and the return to the land. Then the sacrifice is burned and God makes a covenant with Abram, giving his descendants this land that will become the Promised Land.

As our passage opened God began with these words: “Do not be afraid”. God speaks these words to us today. The promises that follow are also ours: God is our shield and our reward. In moments and in times of weariness and doubt, when our minds question, may our hearts turn to God. Through faith may we, like Abram, turn to God and call upon God to be our shield and defender, our reward and redeemer. God is faithful. May we trust in Him alone.

Prayer: Lord, in my moments of fear and doubt and questioning, may I turn to you alone. Remind me of the time after time after time when you have kept your promises so that I may trust in you once more. Amen.


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Connection

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 7-8 and Psalm 1: 1-3

Verse 7: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

In both Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 we read about being connected to God. It is a connection that helps us avoid those who are wicked and who are sinners. It is a connection that lessens our fears and worries. In Jeremiah 17:7 we read of the benefits of staying connected to God: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

The psalmist identifies the connection point. When we delight in the law and when we meditate on it, we are blessed. When we read our Bibles and when we meditate on what we read – seeking understanding and application for our lives – then we are blessed. For the psalmist, this is the source that is like water to the roots of a tree. Water is essential for life. It nourishes the tree. In time, the tree produces fruit. Its leaves do not wither, it prospers. So it is with us when we sink our roots down into the Word, delving into our Bibles, soaking up God’s word.

Jeremiah also speaks of blessing when we are connected to God. When ‘heat’ comes we do not fear and when hard times come we do not worry. If our roots are connected to God, then we can rest in God’s presence and peace. The things of this world do not consume us. In those times when life ramps up and we feel the heat, we can turn to God for assurance and refuge. When we face difficult situations, instead of worrying, we can turn to God and place our lives in His hands, trusting in His love.

This metaphor is also picked up in the New Testament. Just yesterday I shared a message from John 15. In the first five verses, Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches. Jesus emphasizes our absolute need for connection too. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. And just as Jeremiah and the psalmist speak of bearing fruit, so too does Jesus. In verse 4 Jesus shares the key to bearing fruit: “remain in me and I will remain in you”. We do this by spending time in our Bibles and by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In these ways we remain connected to the true vine – Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus, our commission is to make disciples. By sharing the good news of Jesus and by telling the story of what He has done in our lives we help others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. As others come to know and accept Jesus as Lord, our lives are bearing fruit. In John 15, Jesus tells us that when we remain connected to Him we will bear much fruit.

This day and every day may we connect to our Bibles, drinking deeply from the connection that we find in Jesus. May this be the source of life that we share with the world!

Prayer: God of all creation, help me to know you more intimately today. Strengthen my connection with you, build up our relationship. Fill me with you so that all I do and say brings you glory. Amen.


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The King of Glory

Reading: Psalm 24

Verse 10: “Who is he, the King of glory? The Lord Almighty – He is the King of glory”.

In many denominations today is All Saints Day. It is a day to recognize, to remember, and to rejoice in the saints that have been and in those who are living exemplary faithful lives now. In a most general definition, a saint is one who lives or lived a life that reminds others of Jesus Christ.

David opens the Psalm by reminding us that “the earth and everything in it” – including us – is the Lord’s. The passage then moves on to the eternal question: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord”? Who will enter heaven? David’s answer is pretty straight forward: those with clean hands and a pure heart, those who do not bow down to idols. In the words of the day, the saints will ascend to be with Christ.

When folks arrive at the moment of drawing their final breath, almost all are either assured of what will come next or they are full of worry and fear. I have not been present in those final moments when one or the other was not the case. In situations where I have not been present, in the days just after a loss as I have met with lots of families, the assurance of life eternal was almost always either there or it clearly was in doubt. Once in a great while there is questioning about a loved one’s eternal future.

When I think on these experiences and reflect on this day to give our thanks for the saints we know and have known, I rejoice in those who live and have lived with clean hands and pure hearts. They love and worship the Creator. They set an example. When they read verse ten, the answer was or is not in doubt: “Who is He, the King of glory”? Why, He is their friend, Jesus Christ. All their words, actions, and deeds proclaim Jesus as Lord. The Lord Almighty, He is our friend too. As we journey through today and through life, may all we do and say and think bring glory to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

God, I think you for the great cloud of witness that you have provided in my life. Thank you for their witness to me. May each day of my life help others to know you as the many saints in my life have helped me to know you more. All praise and glory to you, O Lord. Amen.