pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Sing for Joy!

Reading: Psalm 98

Verse One: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things”.

The opening line of Psalm 98 is beautiful: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things”.  Part of the role that the Holy Spirit plays in our lives is to lead us into these joyful moments of song for what the Lord has done.  The psalmist is calling for joyous song in response to the salvation worked by the Lord.  For all who are saved, we can lift a joyous “Hallelujah”!  It is within a loving, personal relationship that we each find salvation.  Verse three continues this idea of joy by reminding each of us that “He has remembered His love”.  God is always loving and faithful to His children, to you and me.

The theme of joyous celebration continues in the next verse as the psalmist writes, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth”.  All this joy comes from the ways in which the Lord has fulfilled His promise to walk with the faithful and to one day restore all of creation.  In the meantime, God continues to be at work in the world.  And sometimes it is through you and me.  Those times also bring us joy and lead us to songs of praise.

As we draw to a close of 2017, we are naturally more aware of the end of some things and the beginnings of other things.  In each end we find a new beginning.  Sometimes in the past year there have been joyful ends and we we rejoice in these.  At other times, the ends have brought pain and heartache.  Yet in all cases, we know two things.  First, new beginnings are full of hope and promise because we know that God has good plans for all who believe.  Second, we know that God is ever-faithful and that God will continue to walk beside us in all the highs and lows, always bringing us hope and love.  In all of this, we sing for joy!

As we come near to the closing of another year, I invite you to sing a song of joy in your heart for what God has done, for what God is doing, and for what God will do in the year ahead.  In all things, He is with us.  Thanks be to God!  Joy to all!

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God Moments

Reading: Exodus 24: 19-25

Verse 21: All that night the Lord drove back the sea.

The Israelites experience God’s presence in several ways in today’s passage.  God moves the pillar of cloud to be a barrier to keep the Egyptian army at bay.  This same cloud gives light in the darkness so the Israelites can move.  God next provides a way: “All that night the Lord drove back the sea”.  The sea floor is made dry and the people of God pass over.  That same sea bed is made muddy and the Egyptians get mired down.  Chariots wheels fall off, stalling them out completely so that the waters can come over them all – drowning every single Egyptian soldier.  God at work in powerful ways.

Al times we too can see God at work n our lives.  Some of the time we can see how God has opened a door or provided a way when we saw none, bringing hope, relief, joy…  Other times a door closes or we become stymied.  After our initial frustration we find a new way or a path forward.  In both cases we can see God at work when we look back and reflect.  It is almost as if there were step by step instructions being worked out as we wandered along.  It is only with some reflection that we can see God’s hand at work.

Just as with the Israelites, we too remember these times of God’s hand at work and we rejoice.  Our faith grows as we see how God has worked plans once again for our good, demonstrating His great love for us.  This day may we look back at some of our God moments and bring God our praise.


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At Work

Reading: Genesis 37: 12-28

Verses 23 and 24: They stripped him of his robe… they threw him into the cistern.

Joseph does not have the best of days.  He heads out to check on his brothers and the flocks and ends up being sold into slavery.  His brothers’ hatred of him most directly leads to this event.  But the hatred did not begin today.  It is something that has been building.  The favored son comes alone, wearing that coat that Dad gave him, and evil thoughts are at hand.  Our text reads, “They stripped him of his robe… they threw him into the cistern”.

We have a tendency to want to blame someone when bad things happen to us.  Sometimes we identity a person or group of people and we cast blame on them.  Sometimes it is an occurrence of nature that causes our hardship.  Sometimes when all else fails, we blame God.  Seldom do we look inward right away to find the source of our troubles or hardship.  Joseph probably first blamed his brothers and then maybe Israel for sending him out alone.  At some points He probably questioned or blamed God.  From what we know of Joseph, it is unlikely that he became introspective.

In reality, many had a hand in what happens to Joseph in our passage today.  Israel has favored and spoiled Joseph.  This day he sends him off alone to a group of brothers who are jealous and dislike Joseph.  Joseph himself has helped build the animosity by sharing his dreams and by tattling on his brothers.  Satan has also been at work, fanning the flames of anger and planting thoughts of murder.

Although God is not mentioned in the text for today, God is also surely at work.  He softens Reuben’s heart and then Judah’s.  The caravan doesn’t just happen to come along.  Yes, in our lives nature, the bad decisions of others, and our own poor choices can cause us hardship and trial.  But in it all, God is still present.  God still has the bigger picture in sight.  His plans for us are ultimately for good and to prosper us.  As Joseph’s story unfolds, trials continue to come yet God remains at work always.  The same is true for us.  As the story of our lives unfold, may we trust into the God who loves us and seeks good for us.


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Trusting

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-7

Verse One: Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry.

The psalmist cries out to God for an answer to his prayer: “Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry”.  He asks God to “give ear” to what he requests.  Then he adds a reminder to “see what is right”.  He wants God to not only listen and to pay attention but to see it his way as well.  This is a familiar prayer pattern for most of us today.  We want God to hear our prayers and to answer as we have requested because, as you can see God, we are right and correct in what we are asking for.

To back up his case and to help God act on his behalf and in the way that he desires, the psalmist builds his case.  He invites God to examine him and to test him.  He is confident that God will not find any sin in his life.  He reminds God that he has kept “the words of your lips” and has not followed the ways of the violent.  The psalmist reminds God that he has “held to your paths”.  Some of the time we also add similar reminders to our prayers.  We add things like: went to church each Sunday, read Bible every day, served at the rescue mission last month… We remind God that we have not gossiped or caroused too much.  We also build our case and on occasion we may even pray the “if You’ll only…” prayer.

The psalmist closes this section by again asking God to hear and answer.  He requests that God would “show the wonder of your great love”.  It’s almost as if he were reminding God of how much God loves us as a way to prompt God to show it by answering his prayers.  It is an “if you really love me” kind of prayer.  We too go here once in a while.  We too imply that because God loves us, He should answer as we desire.

All of this seems to both bring God down to our level and to elevate our needs above God’s understanding.  God knows our needs.  God has plans to prosper us.  May we bring our humble and honest prayers simply to God, trusting that He will hear and trusting that He will act according to His will and to His plans for us.


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Trials and Temptations

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Jesus prepares for His ministry with a period of testing.  He fasts for forty days and is physically weak.  Satan comes then and tempts Jesus with food, trust, and power.  Food represents both our basic needs and our desires.  Is our life about pursuing these things and then giving what’s left to God?  Or do we first give to God, knowing that He loves us and will provide for all we need?  The second temptation partly involves trust.  We we step out or step forward, trusting that God will have our back?  And perhaps before this first step, did we seek God’s discernment and direction or did we just make our own plan?  When seek God’s will and when we obey His lead, there is no fear or lack of trust.  Power is the third temptation.  Worship Satan and all the world is yours.  We like to be in charge.  What a temptation!

In our own journey of faith, we are often tempted and often out to the test.  In our giving, do we obediently give our tithe or volunteer for that cause that pulls at our heart strings?  Or do we focus on what “has” to be done first or pay all the bills and then see if we have time or money left for God?  In those moments when the Holy Spirit nudges us to get involved or to offer our talents or to engage the stranger, do we trust that God will give us the words to say or will show us what to do?  Or do we apply excuses or rationalize away the opportunity?  And when we look at our priorities, do they reveal that God is #1 in our lives?  Or does ‘God’ fall somewhere down the list?  If one looked at our lives, they should see how we are investing our lives in God’s work in the world and in growing our own personal faith.  Is that what they would see?

Just as Satan tempted Jesus to rely on something other than God, he will also tempt us.  How we respond to or react to the above questions and scenarios indicated how successful Satan may be at drawing us away from God.  In this season of Lent, where we too are preparing ourselves for ministry, may the Lord our God strengthen and encourage us each day as we strive to walk as disciples of Jesus each and every day.


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God is There

Reading: Habakkuk 1: 1-4

Habakkuk begins by voicing what many of us have voiced as well: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen”?  Sometimes our prayers have been for a loved one, sometimes for a friend, and sometimes they are for a far away someone or a group of people that we do not know personally but are somehow connected to our heart strings.  We see hurt and injustice near and far and we bring it to the Lord.  But is seems to persist anyway.  Like Habakkuk, we cry out, “How long?”

Sometimes we come to a place where we feel we cannot bear the pain or hurt any longer.  Our cries turn to anger and we express our frustration with God’s apparent inactivity.  We hear this cry in Habakkuk’s words.  In our mind it makes no sense why our living God would ‘allow’ it to continue.  In our anger we may even want to turn away, to just forget the situation.  But we cannot.  Deep down we know that God does not ‘allow’ pain…  It is part of the world, just as joy is part of our world.  The Spirit reminds us of Jeremiah’s words, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (29:11).  We may not be able to understand God’s plans, but we still hold onto the promise.  There is comfort in this as we walk through the midst of a time of suffering or pain or injustice.

Even as we cry out, “How long?” we know that God is right there.  Our God of love seeks to bring us peace and strength and comfort and reassurance and whatever else we need right in the midst of our trial.  “I am with you” says the Lord.  In our trials, may we always trust into God and hold tightly to the hope we profess.  God is faithful.  God is love.  May we cling to the Lord our God in the storms.


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To Hear God

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

When was the last time you experienced God’s presence?  Was it during a time of worship?  Was it during a time of deep prayer?  Was it out in nature – perhaps in a beautiful sunrise or during a powerful thunderstorm?  Maybe it was during a quiet time alone with your Bible.  God desires to be in relationship with us and seeks those moments when He can connect to us so that we can feel His presence.

Abraham was blessed to be able to talk and walk with God – many times.  Their connections were through a dialogue that had both give and take to it.  There was certainly more to it than simply hearing God’s voice.  The relationship between God and Abraham was deep and open and honest.

For most of us, we feel blessed when we have felt God’s presence surrounding us.  This experience is almost a physical one although we cannot see or touch God; we do feel a tangible presence in these moments.  We come away from these experiences with a definite sense of being blessed and with a sense knowing the sacred in our lives.

While experiencing God’s presence is always an awesome experience, I long to have a connection with God like Abraham’s.  The greatest obstacle to this is me.  I so value the times of being in His presence, but I want to hear His voice, to converse with God.  At times, when I am planning a lesson or working on the message, the Spirit’s guidance is definitely evident, but more is possible.

My greatest challenge is to provide the space for a conversation to happen.  For me, this means slowing down enough and quieting myself down enough to allow the opportunity to occur.  It also requires being open enough to hear God.  I can say I want to have what Abraham had, but I must be fully willing to hear and obey what God has to say.  This involves the complete surrender of my will to His and my total trust in His plan.  For me this is a journey just begun.  God, make me willing.  God, draw me in.  God, help me create space for You to enter in.  God, grant me the courage to trust.