pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Put to Test

Reading: Genesis 22: 1-14

Verse 12: Now I know that you fear God, because you did not withhold from me your son.

As our story continues, Abraham and Isaac reach the mountain.  Abraham proceeds to build an altar and arranges wood on it.  As he is doing this, I wonder what is going through his mind.  Is he trying to think a way out?  Is he thinking of all the ways that God has blessed him?  Is he thinking of the promise?  Or is he praying?  Or is his mind a blank?

Then Abraham binds up his only son and lays him on the altar.  Isaac, at some point, became aware of the answer to his question: where is the lamb?  I cannot imagine what it would be like to be in Abraham’s position.  I would have probably been more like Jonah – running away, looking for a place to hide.  Abraham’s faithfulness is amazing to me.  His obedience to God is unflinching.

Just as he raises the knife to make the sacrifice, God calls out.  At just the last second, God intercedes.  Our passage begins with, “some time later God tested Abraham”.  Indeed.  Abraham passed the test and in the next verses, the angel of the Lord again renews the promise.

At times we too are put to the test.  Sometimes our test seems just as big as sacrificing one’s own son.  So at times we can relate.  We can also look back and see when we were put to the test.  And we can see how God provides and how God is faithful.  Thanks be to God.


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Steps

Reading: Psalm 23: 1-2

Verse 2: He makes me like down in green pastures… He restores my soul.

David opens the Psalm by declaring God to be his shepherd.  Because of this, David knows he shall not be in want.  Above all else, he has learned that God provides for him.  Whether dealing with a bear while tending sheep or facing a giant on the battle field or avoiding the insane king, God has provided for way more than David’s basic needs.  But God has provided for them as well, so David has a deep and abiding trust in God.  It is a trust that had grown with experience and practice.  It is one we can enjoy too if we are willing to “let go and let God”.  But it is sort of a two-edged sword you see.  If we never trust God enough to face our giants, then we never truly understand just how great our God can be.  Deep and abiding trust requires us to take another step.

David goes on in verse two to another way that God cares for him and us: rest.  God knew since the beginning how important it was for us to rest.  God himself rested on the seventh day and made Sabbath rest one of the ten commandments.  It is a practice that is deeply ingrained in the lives of Orthodox Jews to this day.  David writes, “He makes me like down in green pastures… He restores my soul”.  David is so in tune with God that he feels God leads him to a place of rest.  David’s place is out in nature, the place of his youth.  The green pastures and quiet waters are calling and David finds restoration for his soul in this place.  It is a place that God invites us to as well.  It is a space that requires deep and abiding trust as well.  It requires that we trust God enough to rest.  This means that we trust God can and will take care of tomorrow – with all of it’s requisite work and worries.  This is also a “let go and let God” practice.  It is also a means of trusting all that we have and all that we are into God’s hands.  To trust in this way also requires another step – another step towards God and away from the world.

This day may we step a little further in our trust in God, entering deeper into His love.


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Lead

Reading​: Exodus 17:1-7

The Israelites have Moses as their leader.  He was sent by God to free the people from slavery in Egypt and to lead them to the Promised Land.  Through the signs and wonders it is clear that God is with Moses.  As the people begin this journey, the memories of slavery are surely still in their minds.  Yet they grumble and complain pretty guickly against Moses when their needs are not met.  They are free, yes, but they have been promised a new homeland.  They envision arriving, not being tested out in the desert.

Initially, Moses was a very reluctant leader.  In fact, he tried to talk God out of choosing him.  But Moses did accept the position and has been a good leader.  He has grown into the position and has worn the title well.  Even though Moses’ patience is tried now and then by the people, he functions well as their leader.  He deals with the daily decisions, hears the daily cases and complaints, and continues to lead.  So it is natural for the people to go to Moses when there is no water to drink.  When the people have a vision for the Promised Land, it is hard to die of thirst out in the desert.

Moses, as leader and intermediary to God, intercedes on the people’s behalf.  God responds to the people’s needs by making water flow from the Rock at Horeb.  God provides and Moses continues to lead.

Almost all of us are leaders.  For some it is with our families, for some it is at our jobs, for some it is on our teams, for some it is where we volunteer, for some it is in our circle of friends.  As leaders, we try and set the example and try to lead in a way that brings honor and glory to God.  And at times, like with Moses, the ‘people’ will complain or grumble to us as the leader.  May we each follow Moses’ example, hearing the people and then going to God for the solution.  We can choose to lead by following God’s voice and direction, or we can try to lead on our own.  Things worked out pretty good for Moses.  May we also choose to lead wherever we are planted with God out in front.


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Inside

Reading: Isaiah 5: 5-7

God loves and cares for all humanity.  It is God’s desire to be in a loving relationship with each and every one of us.  God blesses us with all we need and more as an expression of that love and care.  God watches over us and through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit guides and protects us.  God is the ultimate example of a loving parent.

In today’s passage the people of Israel are the children.  Apparently they are not being good children.  The frustrated parent looks back over all that has been done for Israel and recalls all the love and blessings poured out upon them.  In response to their disobedience and lack of faithfulness to the covenant, God will step back from being their provider and protector.  God will not stop loving them.  But God will love them from afar.

At times in life I have made similar choices.  I can relate to the Israelites.  I have allowed earthly pursuits to push my relationship with God way to the back burner.  I have been enamored with the things of this world from time to time, leaving very little or no time for God.  At some point though I come to a place where I realize that the hedges and walls are not there.  My soul is dry as God’s rain has not fallen in a while.  When I stop here and look at how I have been living my life, I see that I have stepped outside of my relationship with God.  The walls and hedged are still there. I had just stepped outside of them for a season.

Perhaps you can relate.  Perhaps you know someone in your life who is struggling along outside the walls of God’s love.  Step back inside.  Lead that friend into a relationship with God.  In relationship with God is where and when life is best.  May we all dwell inside the bounds of a loving, committed relationship with God.


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Fully Trust

Reading: Luke 10: 1-11

For most of us, when we wake up in the morning, we know what our day is going to look like.  We tend to be creatures of habit, creatures of routine, creatures of schedules and lists.  We tolerate interruptions to our day fairly well if we perceive them as something good.  Not to say we plan every second, but we do not like the unknown too much and we feel more in control when we plan, organize, and prepare.  For as long as mankind has walked the earth, this has been true.  Societies like order, law, and norms; this is a reflection of who we are as individuals.

Step into the shoes of one of Jesus’ disciples.  He seems to be a wanderer of sorts.  He seems to get up every morning and goes where He is led.  You wake up in Jericho but may not go to sleep there.  The day begins heading toward Bethlehem but you end up in Bethany.  At first it was a little uncomfortable and disconcerting just going wherever.  But over time you’ve come to see that no matter where you are or who us around, Jesus seems fully in control.  You seem to usually get fed and there is almost always a roof over your sleeping spot.  Over these months you’ve really come to trust in Him and to rely on Him for, well, for everything.

Then one morning you get up and gather around for the usual morning devotional.  You smile because today you see Jesus is leading the devotional time.  But today, instead of teaching Jesus gives instructions.  He says we are to go out two by two, by ourselves.  We are to try and bring His peace into the towns and villages that He will soon come to.  We are to preach that the kingdom of God is drawing near.  We are to heal the sick.  What?  Heal the sick?  He goes on – take nothing with you.  Nothing.  Jesus says we are to rely on those we go to for food, shelter…  Then He says, “Go!”

Jesus was calling on the disciples to trust Him.  He told them that He will still be with them even though He is not physically present with them.  Jesus tells them that they can go out and do what He has been doing because He is empowering them to go forth in His name to proclaim the good news and to bring healing to people’s brokenness.  Jesus is calling them to trust fully in Him.

What lies ahead for us today?  What all is on our to-do list?

Maybe not today because it’s already planned, but one day soon, may we each do what those first disciples did.  May we wake up and go out into our communities and neighborhoods, taking nothing but Jesus with us, but fully trusting in Him to lead and provide.  May we fully trust in Jesus Christ on that day.  It is a start.


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Prayer

Reading: Psalm 67

Psalm 67 contains a common prayer pattern.  In the opening verses, the psalmist speaks of God’s grace, blessings, and light coming to mankind.  Through these gifts, mankind is drawn in and comes to know God’s ways so that salvation may come.  For us, each time of extended prayer should begin the same way, by recognizing how God has worked in our lives and by allowing this to draw us close to Him.

Then the Psalm moves on to our role: praising God, being glad, and singing for joy.  When we praise God, we are lifting Him up to His rightful place of majesty and power.  In this is the implication of our smallness and our dependence upon God.  We praise partly because we recognize our absolute need for God and also because He is just and because He guides our lives accordingly.  Our praise and thanksgiving flow out of our recognition of His activity in our life so it is a natural second phase of our extended prayers.

The Psalm wraps up by recognizing that the land yields it’s harvest as God blesses us.  In the psalmist day, the literal land was the source of life for the people.  It was a very agrarian society.  For us today, we rely on the harvest of the land too but most of us are several steps removed from the process.  Today, for most of us the figurative land is our place of employment, our homes, our relationships with each other.  In this sense, God continues to bless us richly with all we need.  Within this also is a recognition that all comes from God; none of our blessings come solely through us.  There is an interdependence between God and our lives.  It is through our relationship with Him that we come to see how much God provides for us.  This third part of our extended prayers is a time to recognize our connection to God.

By daily praying through these three phases or parts, we come to know God more deeply and begin to be daily transformed by His power.  As we recognize His hand in our lives, as we offer our praises for this activity, and as we acknowledge our connection to and need for God’s presence and blessings in our lives, our faith deepens.  This day may we each offer a prayer like Psalm 67 and through it draw closer to our God.