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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Goodness and Love

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-3

Verse One: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”.

Today’s Psalm opens with an essential truth of our faith: God is goodness and love. Our response? To give thanks for the goodness and love that endures forever. We could say “Amen!” and be done here, but life is not always that simple. Unfortunately, we encounter stress and loss and pain and illness… at times in life. Even though God remains good and loving through these times, we can forget that fact. And sometimes our trials lasts so long that we begin to question this fact. So, what are we to do?

The psalmist gives us two suggestions to combat our tendency to forget that God is present in the midst of trial and suffering. Both revolve around giving thanks. The psalmist suggests that we begin each and every day by thanking God for His constant presence with us. By praying this we will better live into that presence. The second suggestion is to then thank God each and every day for what He has done in our lives and in the lives of those we love. Naming those large and small ways that God shared His goodness and love yesterday helps us anticipate the same today. Doing so also helps us to remember it in times of trial. And as an added bonus, the more we name it, the better we become at recognizing it on a daily basis.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we live in community. Therefore another aspect of living into God’s goodness and love is the sharing of our stories. Whether you are reading a testimony of God’s goodness and love that was written three hundred years ago or if you are sharing your own testimony with a friend, by sharing the story of God’s goodness and love we build one another up. May we not only spend time in prayer thanking God for His goodness and love, but may we also share the story of what God has done and is doing in our lives every day. May it be so. Amen!


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 77: 1-2 & 11-20

Psalm 77 begins with, “I cried out to God for help; I cried out for God to hear me”.  In this opening line we can feel connection.  Whether recent, long ago, or present, we have all had occasions to cry out to God and to lay out great need at His feet.  When we find ourselves at the end of our hope, we desperately reach out to God and beg Him to hear our prayer.

Then the psalmist goes on remind himself of all that God has done.  In this way we too can recall times we have been in God’s presence in our past and can again rejoice in the blessings we have and are currently experiencing.  Then he goes on to recount God’s goodness and the many miracles God has worked in the past.  In the midst of a difficult time it is important to think on God’s love, goodness, and power.

As the Psalm concludes, the writer recalls God’s leading of the people.  God still desires to lead us each day of our lives as well.  God seeks to be an active and engaged participant in our lives.  In times of stress or trial it can be easy to forget God’s role in our lives.  Even in those times that He seems to be absent, He is always ad near as our next prayer.

God’s desire is to heal and save the world.  The master plan is to make all things new again.  There is hope in our faith.  We do go through dark moments in our lives, but we also dance in God’s light and love.  May today be a day of dancing.  And even if the dance is slow and mournful, may it also be bathed in God’s presence.


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Requests

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-2 and 6-14

In many of our relationships we feel as if we can ask for things at times.  As our relationship deepens, we feel that the level of our request can rise.  For the best of friends, one will often do whatever they can for the other.

Elijah has mentored Elisha and the time for Elijah to pass on has come.  Elisha has been prepared to take on the role of prophet of Israel.  The bond and relationship the two have developed is deep.  In response to Elijah’s “any last requests” question, Elisha asks for a double portion of his spirit.  It is much to ask for.  It is also something Elijah himself cannot give or grant.  But the request is not out of bounds.  He is asking to be blessed in what he has been prepared for.

From time to time we may request something of a close friend or maybe from a parent or spouse.  And sometimes the request is something they cannot grant or is something beyond their control.  Oh they wish they could but it is something beyond them.  At times we are on the receiving end of such a request.

In these cases all we can do is to turn it over to God in prayer.   We must recognize our limited ability to fulfill the request and allow it to be turned over to God.  God is good and desires to provide for us.  May we, like Elijah, trust in His goodness and go in assurance as we petition our Lord.


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God’s Presence and Will

It is common in the church today to hear that these are dark days.  The world is full of greed, the lust for power and control, the idea that the individual is supreme, and tragedies such as war, disease, and oppression.  While much of this is true, dark days are not common only to our time.  For those that lived through world-changing events, such as the Depression or the World Wars, their times were certainly filled with dark days.  This could be said of many events in mankind’s past.  For the Ephesians that Paul was writing to, the days were filled with persecution and they lived within a pagan culture.  These were dark days as well.

As each generation of Christians face the dark and evil days in which they live, the questions are the same: how will we face these days? And, how will we respond?  Today our answers are just as important as they were during the bubonic plague of Europe or during the more recent AIDS epidemic in Africa or at any other time in the church’s history.

Some voices call for the Christian to retreat within the walls of our churches and homes, to live largely in isolation.  Venture forth only when absolutely necessary.  Other voices call for more aggressive measures such as protest, boycott, and other forms of condemnation.  Through these and other political actions these voices call for Christians to play the world’s game of power and control, just with our own Christian agenda.

Paul’s advice to the Ephesians was to understand God’s will.  Christians never were or are called today to run from the world.  Nor are we called to fight with the world.  Instead we are called to follow Jesus.  Jesus’ life was God’s will lived out in the flesh.  We too are called to live as God’s presence in the world sharing His love, goodness, mercy, righteousness, truth, justice, and forgiveness.  We face each day knowing God’s presence in and will for our lives.  We respond by sharing God with others.

Scripture reference: Ephesians 6: 18-20


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In the Pain, Suffering… Love

On the cross Jesus cries out, “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?”  In His anguish and pain Jesus is using the psalms as a prayer to God the Father.  Most of this psalm is a song of lament – full of pain, anger, suffering.  Surely on the cross Jesus felt all of these emotions.  Today, as we remember what He did for us on that cross, may we too allow ourselves to feel the pain, the suffering, the loneliness.

We all have experiences that were painful.  There are and will be times in our lives when we hurt physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  There will be times when we cry out the same prayer, “My God, my god, why?”  In these moments, know Jesus is interceding for you.  IN those times and places, allow Him to come and minister to your hurts, your pains, your suffering.

Sometimes we want to remain in the hurt.  Sometimes it is hard to get past it.  Because He died, He was able to rise.  Because He rose there is always hope.  The psalm goes on.  In the last third we are reminded of that hope and the promises and our call.  We are called back out of our hurts to praise His name, for in the praise we connect back to God.  We are called to care for others, for the poor and the afflicted, for in caring we are also connected back to God.

We are called to praise Him, to cry out to Him, to walk in the hurt with Him, to remain confident in His abiding love, to trust in Him.  Our creator and sustainer is always near, always present.  In the pain, suffering, and loneliness of today, remember His promises.  Remember His love.  The next psalm has some familiar words as well.  “The Lord is my shepherd..” and “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”  It too concludes with hope: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Thanks be to God for his abiding love and presence.

Scripture reference: Psalms 22 and 23


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It Narrows

“Jesus arrives on the scene disinclined to greatness but inclined to goodness.”  This line really stood out in one of the devotionals I read this morning.  Just a bit earlier in Mark, Jesus referred to himself as “Lord.”  But His definition of ‘Lord’ is a bit different that the people He will encounter as they enter Jerusalem.

The excited people gathered for the Passover with shout “Hosanna!” and declare him ‘Lord’ and will call in the kingdom of David as Jesus arrives.  Hosanna means ‘Save!” – they had such high expectations for Jesus.  They were ready to anoint Him.  Riding in on a donkey probably wasn’t what most had imagined for the day a king would return to save Israel.  The crowd was so charged that Jesus could have been easily lured in.  But He was not.  As He slowly progressed His mind remained resolutely focused on the cross.  He could have chosen greatness but instead He chose to be the good servant.

Jesus’ life was never about power or status or accolades.  His life was always about service and the offering of self for others.  To follow Him is to do as He did.  It is hard.  Remember, when the teachings got really tough and the road narrowed, then the crowds thinned and the followers fell away.  His teachings were challenging and required a cost or sacrifice – most often to self, to status, or to possessions.  In Jesus’ economy the things of value are love, mercy, justice.

In the week ahead, as we enter Holy Week, the road gets really narrow.  It will take a bit to walk through the week ahead with Christ.  This Lenten season of self-denial and introspection makes us ask some hard questions.  He is calling us to read the Word, to feel the tug of the emotions, to be a part of His Holy Week.  Happy trails!

Scripture reference: Mark 11: 4-7