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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Walking Daily

Reading: Psalm 4:8

Verse Eight: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety”.

The Psalms are full of emotion. They range from deep and sorrowful laments to joyous songs of praise. In short, they cover the whole range of human emotion and represent well the ups and downs that life inevitably brings. Because life is such, it is hard to always do as today’s verse suggests.

What does it take to lie down each day to sleep in peace? How could we do this each day, no matter what life brings our way? I think if the deep and painful moments that come with the sudden loss of a loved one or the unexpected news of unemployment and wonder how this is always possible. The answer to these questions lies in what we do day in and day out. If our spiritual disciplines are daily and consistent, then we build a great relationship with God that allows us to live out this verse even when our hearts are filled with great hurt and deep sorrow. When our relationship with God is rock solid, then He will always be our solid rock.

On a Tuesday morning just over two years ago I was informed that my job was being eliminated. After being a part of that organization for 23 years, it felt like the end of the world. I prayed a lot that day and spent a lot of time in conversation with God. He was not a stranger but a dear friend. By the end of the day I had found peace. Yes, there were still more questions than answers, but I was able to lie down and sleep in peace because I knew that God was in control, that He loved me, and that He would lead the way.

His presence gave me the strength I needed and allowed me to trust in His plans. This came through years of walking daily with God. I had established a deep personal relationship that made me into someone who knew God would see me through. Yes, it was a difficult process and there were hard days yet ahead, but in all of them God was with me. May this be your relationship with God as well. May you walk daily, through the good and the bad, fully connected to the Lord our God.


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Come Quickly

Reading: Psalm 70

Verse One: “Hasten, O Lord, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me”.

Today’s Psalm is like a little of other Psalms in their intent. This Psalm is one of many that cry out to God for help and protection and deliverance. Many of these Psalms speak of the trial and suffering that is leading the psalmist to open with these words: “Hasten, O Lord, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me”. The psalmist is in need of God’s presence and help. This prayer of David is beneficial to us for several reasons.

One reason is to remind us that all people everywhere have hardships in their lives from time to time, us included. It is simply part of life. In reading how a king so great as David could have troubles just like ours troubles somehow lessens ours or at least makes us feel not so alone the n our struggle.

A second reason is to give us a pattern of prayer that we can use ourselves. This prayer of David can become our prayer for God’s presence and help. In those moments when we feel like others are against us and we need God’s intervention and saving and deliverance, we can pray Psalm 70.

A third and perhaps most important reason is to remind us that it is not only okay to ask for help but that God desires it. When we turn to God for help, we are acknowledging our need for God. In doing so, we build up our relationship because we are being honest and vulnerable. At times we can have difficulty asking for help. It feels weak and runs counter to our rugged individualism mentality that is fueled by pride and ego. Yet if the great King David needed to ask for help, surely so can we. In doing so, we are also practicing humility.

Sometimes we can even ask for help from one another in a time of need. In this we are admitting our imperfections and our inability to do it on our own. This act of humility feels risky. But it admits our need for one another as well. It admits our need for community and friendship and belonging. There we also find great love and support.

When life rains on us, may we ever turn to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ. In our weakness, they give strength. May we come quickly to those around us. May we ever have the courage to trust in God and in one another.


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Praise and Exalt

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 & 19-29

Verse 27: “The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine upon us”.

The section of Psalm 118 that we read today is full of joy over being connected to God. Verse one is used in a popular praise and worship song. I can’t but help singing, “Give thanks to the Lord, our God and King, His love endures forever”. In our church and in many others we will sing this song on Sunday morning. The song and this Psalm are just part of the excitement of Palm Sunday.

The Psalm was a well-known Psalm so Jesus would have been familiar with it. These words probably encouraged Him as He turned and made His way to Jerusalem one last time. He knew well what lay ahead so the reminders that God is good and that His love endures forever would have brought Jesus comfort and strength. In recalling verse 22, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone”, Jesus would have found affirmation in the mission that lie ahead.

As we read this Psalm ourselves, we can also find encouragement and strength. On our paths through life we too encounter times of trial and testing. To remember “I will give thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation” places us firmly in God’s family both now and into eternity. In seeing the bigger picture, we are better able to walk through the trials. To remember “The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine upon us”, reminds us of God’s ever-present light that guides and blesses us, especially in those trials.

Almost at the end of the Psalm we read these wonderful words of thanksgiving and praise: “You are my God, and I will give you thanks; You are my God, and I will exalt you”. Yes, indeed, you are our God. For that we lift our thanksgiving and praise today! Your love endures forever, always a sign of your goodness. Thanks be to God! Amen.


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My Strength

Reading: Psalm 22

Verse Nineteen: “But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my strength, come quickly to help me”.

Today’s Psalm represents well our lives and our journey of faith. At times we feel like the opening words sum up our life: “my God, why have you forsaken me”? We feel an unbearable amount of pain or a burden we cannot bear and God seems very distant. Like the psalmist, we cry out, but hear only silence. But in the next verses we are reminded of God’s faithfulness as we too recall the previous generations praise of and trust in the Lord. We are reminded that they trusted and we’re never disappointed.

The psalmist continues to recount trials and sufferings that they went through and they intersperse these events with praise for the God who always comes through, is always really there. Most of the time we live out this kind of a faith. God brings us joy and peace and contentment and strength. Most of the time we feel God’s loving and caring presence all around us. Yet we too know that the natural cycles of life will bring pain, regret, disappointment, doubt, … All of us experience these times in life. Even the ‘greats’ of the faith do. Mother Teresa even experienced what she herself called he “dark nights of the soul”, times when the weight of the pain and suffering all around her left her feeling alone and without faith.

In our moments of hurt and doubt, we too cry out as did the psalmist: “But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my strength, come quickly to help me”. We call God in, we want to feel God’s closeness and presence. Through this Psalm we are reminded that through the ups and downs of life and our faith, that God remains ever present and that God is always sufficient. The psalmist expresses this confidence as he writes, “they who seek the Lord will praise Him”. This confidence comes from experience after experience. When we seek the Lord, we will find Him, and that will lead to praise. The psalmist concludes with these words: “They will proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn – for He has done it”. God has been, is, and always will be faithful and true. As people of faith may we continue to tell of God’s goodness and love, today and through the generations to come. May it be so. Amen.


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Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse One: How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

The Psalm for today is written to a community.  It may be to a specific congregation or group of people or it may be to all the Israelites.  It is believed that at the time of the writing, the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms and the psalmist wrote this Psalm to try and help unite the two kingdoms.

Whether it is a sports team or a book club, a family or an office staff, a congregation or a nation, the goal and hope is always unity and peace.  Our Psalm today opens with “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”!  This is indeed true!  Unity and peace are signs of love and togetherness.  The image of oil being poured out in the Psalm represents God’s blessings being poured down.  The dew represents well-being and is also a connection to God’s blessings.  It is God’s plan and intent for creation to get along – from the two friends to the couple to the family to the neighbors to the community to the nation to the world.  To live in peace and unity and love and harmony is God’s intent.  If we all loved neighbor as Jesus first loved us then God’s intent would be our reality.

Although this is God’s intent, there is no shortage of conflict in our lives and world.  Much of it is interpersonal.  Society’s bent towards individualism and self-gratification pits one against another in the battle for power and status and wealth.  In the larger society there is much tension between groups of people as well as between nations.  One only has to look at Charlottesville and North Korea to see the seeds of hatred and bigotry and mistrust and evil.

If God’s intent is unity, as followers of Jesus Christ, what is our role to play in bringing unity to our world?  It begins by loving all we meet as Christ loves us.  Loving and seeing as Jesus loved and saw leads us to stand up for what is right, to stand against what is wrong, and to seek to bring peace and justice and unity and love into all situations we find ourselves in.  We are to be the light and love.  We are to bring peace and hope.  May it begin in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches, and in our worlds.


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Our Great God

Reading: Psalm 86: 1-10 & 16-17

Verse 16: Turn to me and have mercy on me; grant strength to your servant.

We often cry out to God.  We often feel as if we are hard-pressed and God alone can intervene.  Then we are grateful and offer up our praises to God.  Such is the content of today’s Psalm.  David is writing intimately about the experiences we can all have with God.  For ages this Psalm had been read by Jews and then by Christians in times of trial and suffering because it connects us so well to the relationship we have with God.

The psalmist opens with a request to be heard by God.  David reminds God of his devotion to God and seeks mercy and joy from God. From time to time it is good to remind ourselves of our devotion to God – it recalls for us our part in the relationship.  David next reminds God of who He is: “forgiving and good” and “abounding in love”.  We come to God for mercy and help because of God’s nature and because of God’s great love for us.  It is good to remember this in times when we have allowed the cares and troubles to crowd out our connection to God.

David then turns to the omnipotent nature of God.  “There is none like you” establishes God as the one true God.  David envisions all nations coming to worship and bring glory to God.  God is over all.  The evidence of God’s power: marvelous deeds.  In the works of His hands we see the greatness of God.  The Psalm ends by returning to the request for help: “Turn to me and have mercy on me; grant strength to your servant”.  Be with me, give me strength, grant mercy to me.  These are familiar refrains.  They always have been and they always will be.  David closes we a great reminder for us: “for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me”.  Our great God of love remains steadfast and true.  God is our help in all ways.  Thanks be to God.