pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 124: 1-5

Verse 1: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

Today’s Psalm is a great reminder of God’s presence with us. The psalmist remembers when they were attacked, when the enemy’s anger rose against them. He remembers when the tipping point was tangible, when they could have been engulfed and swept away. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” reminds him and all who read these verses of why we are not swept away – God’s presence. God was with them. God is with us.

In our lives we have these experiences too. Upon reflecting on just this past week, I can think of times when I could have been pulled off into sin. None were huge or monumental this week, but at times we all have those moments when we are on the brink or when, if not for God’s presence, we do not want to think of how things could have turned out. There was the divorce when I was in sixth grade. There was the car accident my junior year of college when one person did not survive. Recently, in our community, three young teens walked away from a rollover. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” applies in all of these situations. Thanks be to God.

While it is good and right to recognize and rejoice in all of the times and ways that God is with us, we cannot allow ourselves to use this as a dividing line or to judge others. There are many who feel like God does not care about or love them, nevermind whether or not God is on their side. There are others who feel the opposite – that God is against them. Instead of being content in our relationship with God and keeping it to ourselves, our grateful response should be to share God’s love with others. Instead of being comfortable with an us and them attitude, may we recognize that all people are dearly loved children of God and may we make efforts to help the estranged to become part of the family. This day, may we help those who are living outside of a relationship with God to come to know His love and presence in their lives.

Lord God, you are my all in all, my strength when I am weak. Each moment of each day you are with me. Like the psalmist, I cannot imagine life without you. Yet many live this way. Today, may my words, actions, and thoughts help to decrease the number of those who are lost. Thank you, Lord, for your presence in my life. May I share it well today. Amen.

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Forever Grateful

Readings: Psalm 23 and John 10:27

Psalm 23:4 – “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.

The understanding of God and Jesus as shepherd and us as the sheep is a common reference in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, respectively. Sheep and shepherds were very common in these times, so they were a good concept to use as an illustration. Today we may still think of sheep as dumb and prone to wander, and this remains true. But, if we are honest, these two traits describe us pretty well at times too.

Admittedly, at times I can say and do some ‘dumb’ things. I think many more than I do or say; fortunately my filter works fairly well. These occurrences seem to be less common as I mature. The same can be said of my wandering. In my youth and college days I wandered far at times. Thirty plus years later and I am better but still deviate from the righteous walk of faith now and then. As I have matured in my faith, my walk is closer aligned to God’s will and purposes for my life and to the example that Jesus set. Upon reflection, perhaps you too can see this pattern in your life.

Verse four of the 23rd Psalm reads, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”. This speaks of the protective role of the shepherd and the corresponding lack of fear in the sheep. The rod was used to ward off would-be attackers. Today, we call on the name of Jesus and use the Word of God to ward off Satan. The staff had a curved hook on the end that would be used to pull the sheep back into the fold, where it was safe. Today, the voice of the Holy Spirit is our hook – calling us back into the fold, back into relationship with Jesus.

John 10:27 reads, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me”. When Jesus said this, a shepherd with twenty sheep could step into a pen with hundreds of sheep and he could call out his twenty. The other sheep would even move away from the voice of a stranger. This analogy is still true today. When we are in tune with the voice of Jesus, we follow His voice and shy away from all others. Others would include the voices of self, the world, and Satan.

I am forever grateful that Jesus knows me and that I know His voice. I am forever grateful for the Good Shepherd’s love and care and protection. May I ever dwell in His fold. May it be for you too!


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Righteous Love

Reading: Psalm 50: 1-6

Verse Three: “Our God comes and will not be silent”.

The Psalm begins with God summoning all people – “from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets”. The purpose of the summons is made evident in verse six: “for God himself is judge”. All peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, will one day be summoned for judgment. While this does sound a little ominous and apocalyptic (one day it will be both), there is also glimpses of beauty and relationship and love in our Psalm.

First, the psalmist reminds us that God shines forth, “perfect in beauty”. The light of God goes out into all the world. It is through the light if God’s love that we can see how to live more holy and righteous lives. The light guides the way and it also exposes the temptations and sins in our lives, allowing us to repent and walk with God. Second, we are told that “Our God comes and will not be silent”. Through the refining fire, God makes us to be more and more of who He created us to be. For Christians, the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit continues to help us hear God speak.

In verse five the psalmist speaks of covenant made by sacrifice. For the Israelites, the sacrifices were made on their part for God. In our New Testament understanding, we know that Jesus was the final sacrifice, made by God for us. Through this, God established the new covenant based upon love and grace. And lastly, we are reminded that God is righteous. It is not a condemning righteousness, but a righteousness also built upon love. God’s righteousness wants what is right for all of His beloved children: a saving relationship through Jesus Christ. So God’s righteousness gives us one more chance after one more chance, so that one more can be saved. God is patient. He waits to judge.

Whether we meet God at the end of our earthly life or when Jesus returns, one day we will all be judged. Between now and then I rejoice in God’s light, love, presence, and righteousness, all of which allows me, a sinner saved by grace, to live in relationship with a holy and loving God. It is a love and mercy that I do not fully comprehend, yet I am profoundly grateful for. Thanks be to God for His righteous love. Amen.


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Presence

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 15: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet”.

Today there is an understanding that God is real and present to His people in several ways. In Moses’ time, God was definitely real and present to them, but there was a fear of God being too physically present. Moses became the people’s designated person to go and communicate with God. We see this unfolding in the first few verses of our passage today.

God next decides that what has been established with Moses is good. He will continue this pattern of raising up prophets to speak God’s word to the people. For many years this is the pattern, with varying degrees of success (or failure). When the people were concentrated in one place or area, a prophet called to speak God’s word could speak to the whole nation. But at times, such as when some were in exile, it was harder. Yet prophets often played a key role in the development, guiding, and realignment of the people’s faith. Prophets were most often used to call the people back to God and God’s ways.

Today we still have prophets but not quite in the Moses mold. God continues to speak through people and through things such as miracles and natural events. But today our prophets seem to speak to a more focused area or group of people. Perhaps the Pope is the closest to an Old Testament prophet as he speaks to the whole Roman Catholic faith. Today many pastors and teachers function as a prophet in the church or place that God has planted them.

We are also blessed with a personal connection to God. As Jesus departed this earth, He blessed His followers with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is like a built-in prophet as it reminds us of God and of God’s ways, and as it calls us back when we sin and wander. I am grateful for those who speak into my life and who help me along on my spiritual journey. I am also grateful for the personal attention that God gives me through the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life. It is a presence that all believers are blessed with. May God continue to lead and guide all believers in all we do and say and think. Thank God for His constant and personal presence in our lives.


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Remember

Reading: Psalm 85: 1-2 and 8-9

Verse Nine: Surely His salvation is near for those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land”.

Today’s Psalm opens by remembering when God showed favor to His people when He restored Jacob and established the twelve tribes of Israel.  The second verse recalls how God has forgiven the people over and over.  Even this early in their collective history, the people have plenty of experience with the cycle of sin and God’s forgiveness.  The psalmist looks back over the history of the people’s relationship with God to remind them of God’s loving and active presence with them.  Sometimes, in a tough moment, all we can do is remember when God has been there for us in the past and cling to the hope and promise that God will be present again in a mighty and powerful way.

A few years ago, I was part of a high school mission trip to Seattle.  On our last ferry ride back across Puget Sound, as we were beginning the long trek home, God became present.  One of the ship’s crew had suddenly passed away and his only ‘family’ in the area was the crew of the ship.  The outward and inward bound ferries stopped beside each other in the middle of the Sound and the captain of our ship led a brief memorial service and tossed a wreath into the water.  As we stood in silence, a few of our youth chose to “listen to what God the Lord will say” and they began to sing “Amazing Grace”.  Everyone joined in and it was a very sacred moment.  It was a powerful experience of God’s presence in our lives and of His love for us all.  We returned to the top deck where we had been worshiping and shortly the captain appeared.  He shared that he believed that God had placed us on that exact ship that very day to remind him of God’s love and care for us all, his dear friend included.  As we departed the ship a while later, a still teary-eyed captain again thanked us for the reminder of God’s love and care for us all.

Just as recalling God’s activity with Jacob and God’s abundant grace throughout their history strengthened the Israelites, so do our ferry moments remind us of times when God has shown up and they strengthen our faith and encourage us in our moments of trial.When have you experienced God in a powerful and meaningful way?  Remember these times today and be grateful.


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Abundant Grace

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse Eight: Call the workers and pay them their wages.

In the parable today the going wage is a denarius.  It was the standard pay for a day’s labor.  For the vineyard workers, four of the five groups received generous pay.  They had worked three, six, nine, or eleven hours less then the first ones hired.  All four of these groups walk away happy with their pay.

The fifth group – those who agreed to a denarius and those who worked the longest – receive the same pay.  In a way this too is generous.  They began the day with nothing to do and were fortunate to be hired.  But what they agreed to does not sit so well with them.  As each group of workers receives their denarius, their unhappiness grows as they come to realize all are being paid the same.  In complaining to the owner, they voice their grumbling relative to the ones who worked only an hour.  They speak of the ones who best ‘prove’ their case.  Yet I think they did not think the groups who worked three, six, or nine hours deserved a denarius either.

God’s grace extends to all who labor for the kingdom of God.  There is no minimum time required before one can begin to draw on grace.  There is no cosmic scorecard somewhere in heaven that determines how much grace each person is allotted or tracks how much we have earned.  We are each given as much as we need.  We are each given the undeserved and unlimited gift of grace anytime we need it.

Our churches are filled with people from all five groups.  Some have just begun to draw on God’s grace.  Others have been living in His grace for 10, 30, or 40 years.  Still others have been living in God’s grace for as long as they can remember.  Many of these receive grace like most of the vineyard workers.  They receive more than they deserve and walk away grateful for the owner’s generosity.  May we each respond to God’s grace the same way, realizing we are receiving more than we deserve, walking away grateful for God’s abundant Grace in our lives.


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Marvelous Deeds

Reading: Psalm 72: 18-19

Our short passage for today so well sums up the spirit of this time of year.  “Praise be to the Lord our God, who alone does marvelous deeds”.  In the bringing forth of the baby Jesus, God indeed did a wonderful thing.  But the list is much longer than this.  Take a moment or two and make a little mental list of the marvelous deeds that God has blessed you with in your life.  Praise be to the Lord our God indeed!

The passage ends with, “May the whole earth be filled with his glory”.  When we praise God for all of the marvelous deeds and wonderful blessings in our lives, we bring God alone the glory.  It is through us that glory is brought to God.  We can bring God glory in many ways.  It can be in our private prayer time.  It can be by singing a song or hymn that offers thanks to God or brings glory to God for the marvelous deeds that he has done.  It can be in the ways we speak to others and in the way we treat them that we bring glory to God.

This day, may we be cognizant of and thankful for all of the marvelous deeds of God.  And may our joyous and grateful response bring God the glory!  Amen and amen.