pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Live in Love

Reading: 1st John 4: 13-21

Verse Sixteen: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in Him”.

In today’s passage there are a lot of references to “in”. The passage begins with “live in Him” and “He in us”, illustrating the connection we have between us and God. This connection is made through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Once we acknowledge Jesus as Savior, then this “in” relationship is established, allowing us to “know and rely on the love God has for us”.

This relationship is based upon love and the connection that being in love brings. In verse sixteen we read, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in Him”. It does not say ‘dabbles in love’ or ‘occasionally strays’ into love. Living in love connects us to God. The more time and energy we invest in love, the more that “love is made complete”. As we approach this completion, we also gain confidence in our eternity. John writes, “perfect love drives out fear”. Our love of God and God’s love in us assures us of our everlasting relationship with God.

To live in love requires a constant attention. This relationship is built and grows only through attention. Like all relationships, it will wither and fade if we neglect it. We must take the time to invest in our relationship with God. Verse nineteen does say, “we love because He first loved us”. It is also true that God will continue to love us no matter what because “God is love”. But the development of a relationship and the reciprocation of love requires our intent and our commitment. It is not enough to say that God first loved us. We must also return that love. In doing so we will be filled with love and as we begin to live in love, that love will naturally flow out to our brothers and sisters as well.

We build our love for God by spending time with God. In can be through time in prayer and reading and studying His Word in the quiet of the morning or in the stillness of the night. It can be time spent in joyful worship at church or in peaceful and still reflection beside flowing waters or in the beauty of the forest path. It can be in a conversation with God during the commute to school or work or in the few moments we steal away waiting in line at the store or in traffic. There are many ways to connect to God to build our love. May we each find many today.


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Hope

Reading: Isaiah 40: 27-31

Verses 29 and 31: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”.

Our section today opens with the people complaining that God is disregarding their cause. The people feel hidden from God. At times, we find ourselves here, don’t we? We too can feel apart from God or as if God does not care about what is happening in our life. We think that if God loved and cared for us, that He would do something – right?

To us and to the Israelites, Isaiah says, “Have you not heard? Have you not seen”? Isaiah is saying, with all of your experience with God and with all you’ve read and heard about God, how can you say this about God? How can you question? This line of thought, this logic, makes sense to us in the good times of life. Yes, God has been there for us over and over. But when we have been in the trial for a while, the illogical rises up. We begin to doubt, we begin to feel abandoned, we begin to question. It is then that we must remember the words of Isaiah: “The Lord is the everlasting God”. Our God is a forever God, a God that never grows tired or weary.

Isaiah then adds some wonderful reminders about how God loves and cares for each of us. Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”. When we are weary, God wants to give us strength. When we are weak, God wants to give us power. But we also have a part. When our hope rests fully on God, we will be renewed. Sometimes it is hard to hold onto and to live into this hope. Sometimes life brings a lot at us. No matter what, though, when we turn to God in hope, He will lift us up. May we ever cling to our hope, to the Lord our God.


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Presence, Rest

Reading: Exodus 33:14

Verse 14: My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.

Today’s passage is one verse long.  It is given to Moses by God to reassure and encourage him.  It is a good promise for us to remember as well.

God’s presence goes with us in so many ways.  I think it begins with the situations and people that God brings into our lives.  These are both opportunities to share God with others and to experience God through others.  Sometimes in our lives we have the blessing of ministering to others and at other times we are ministered to.  When we respond to these opportunities, when we are open to the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives, surely God’s presence is with us.

A few days ago I felt a nudge to go visit a friend who had experienced a very difficult loss.  I was going to be traveling through her state so I asked if we could have coffee.  As I drove yesterday, the Spirit was at work and the Lord placed upon my heart what I needed to share.  I was able to do that and it was a wonderful experience of being able to share God’s presence and love with a fellow child of God.

The second half of today’s verse is such a blessing too when we can get there.  Life does not get much better than when we can find that sweet spot of rest – whether in the recliner, out on the deck, on the couch in the afternoon sun, in the qiuet of the early morning.  But it can be so elusive!  Life is usually so busy and we go at such a non-stop pace that periods of rest can be hard to find.

One of the most restful times of the day can be our times of prayer and study.  If one is willing to carve out 15, 30, or even 60 minutes each day to spend time with God, then He will be both present and He will bring you rest.  In those quiet, still moments spent talking with God, He fills you with peace and rest for your mind and soul.  God renews your spirit.  Taking time to read and meditate on God’s Word is both nourishment and peace for the heart, mind, and soul.  He is surely present and certainly fills us up!

Lord God, may I dwell in your presence today and maybe honor you in all I do and say today.  May your Spirit grant me rest.  Amen.


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Distinct

Reading: Exodus 33: 12-23

Verse 13: Teach me your ways so I may know you.

Moses represents God’s connection to the people as the spokesperson for both God and the people.  Although they are the “chosen people”, what Moses provides is essential to the relationship.  At this point, the people do not feel a connection to God that allows them to communicate directly with God.  This is done by Moses.  The way we communicate with God through our prayers would seem an impossibility to the Israelites.

The Lord God knows Moses by name.  It is a personal relationship.  Moses has come to know God well enough to be able to negotiate with God, but he wants more.  Moses says to God, “Teach me your ways so I may know you”.  He is saying, in essence, that he wants to know God even more.  God’s response is the promise of His presence with Moses and the people Israel.

Moses’ request should be the request that always lies at the center of our personal relationship with God.  “Teach me your ways” should be our daily goal and our constant aim.  Central to this should be our own daily communication with God.  Each day we should often spend time with God, giving our thanks and praise, seeking His activity in our lives.  A part of the conversation must be listening as well – not just to the Holy Spirit but also for God’s voice in our times of prayer.  We must also spend time daily in His Word – reading, meditating, seeking discernment and direction, growing in our knowledge of His ways.  Lastly, we must live out our faith.  As we interact with others, as we meet the stranger, as we work, as we play – in all things God must shine through.  In all we are and do, we too should hear, “I am pleased with you and I know you by name”.  Just like Moses, we too should have an intimate personal relationship with God.

This relationship made Moses and the Israelites distinct from the rest of the world.  They were set apart.  What makes us as Christians distinctive and set apart for God?  How does our daily living bring God the glory as it draws others closer to Jesus Christ?


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Lead

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-4

Verse Two: Why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you put the Lord to the test?

At times it can be difficult to lead.  But we are all called to lead our lives as a witness to Jesus Christ and His love.  In this case we are following one leader as we seek to lead others to a relationship with Jesus or deeper in their present relationship with Him.  To lead as Christ led can require us to make difficult decisions and, at times, to take stands that may be unpopular.

God chose Moses to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land.  This has been and will be a difficult task, but Moses remains steadfast to his call.  The people have grumbled and even fallen into sin.  God has used Moses over and over to lead the people to freedom and to provide for them.  They grumbled about food and God brought quail and manna, validating Moses’ leadership along the way.  Today, once again, the people grumble.  Instead of praying and seeking God, they complain.  There is also an element of testing God.  Moses says to the people, “Why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you put the Lord to the test”?  True, the people are thirsty and they do need water.  But they are certainly testing both God and Moses’ patience.

At times we will be called upon to lead and the Word of God will give us clear and direct guidance on how to proceed.  It is easier to lead when there is an obvious path.  But occasionally we must turn to the Holy Spirit and we must listen very closely to discern the will of God that gives us direction.  In both cases, there may still be grumbling and complaining.  Sometimes this is easy to dismiss and sometimes it is hard to do so.  To be sure in our decisions and leadership, we must spend much time with God.  The larger the decision, the more time we should spend.  Our time spent with God in prayer, reading and meditating on scripture, and discerning His will brings us increased assurances that we are leading in a Godly direction.  Then if grumbling comes, we know that God had left our decision and that God will continue to guide us through.  In this way, we can trust into God.

Moses was a great leader because of his solid connection to God.  May we lead in the same way, deeply rooted in God, leading in a way that brings God all the glory and honor.


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Slumber

Reading: Romans 13: 11-14

Verse 11: The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber.

Paul opens today’s passage with this great line: “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber”.  For Paul, his faith always seemed to carry a sense of urgency.  Not only did Paul live each day like it could be his last, but he wanted all believers to do so as well.  Not only that, but Paul also lived with this urgency that each day may be a non-believer’s last day so they needed to be saved now.

If today were your last day, would you live it any differently than any other day?  If we are living as Paul implores us to – clothed in Jesus Christ – then, no, we would not live today any differently.  Although deep down we know this should be our answer to the question, the reality for most of us is that we’d live the day very differently.

When we hear and ponder the words “wake up from your slumber” all of our minds can quickly come up with some things that we should wake up from.  Paul is talking about our faith in today’s passage and if we limit it to that topic, even then we could all come up with a thing or two.  Or more.  Even though we know deep down… we procrastinate, we think “tomorrow…”, we…  Just like that exercise regimen or that diet plan, we say we will get to that at the start of next week and a month later we still have not begun to read our Bible each morning or to pray each night before heading off to sleep.

Paul writes, “our salvation is nearer now…”  While this is absolutely true, too many of us fail to live like it is true.  Even the greatest of saints alive today could name a thing or two that would better or more fully “clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ”.  Surely we can too.  May we step out into the light and surely and steadfastly “put on the armor of light” as we live out our faith each and every day.


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Be in the Word.

Reading: Luke 24: 22-27

Verse 27: … He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Jesus has just been present to these two followers as they expressed their emotions concerning what has taken place over the last few days.  In today’s section, a still ‘hidden’ Jesus gives these two a great study that arches through and over the scriptures that make up our Old Testament and brings them right to the current moment.  Jesus begins this great teaching with what is almost an admonishing: “How foolish you are and how slow of heart”.  Just as He was often with the disciples, so too is He with these two: saddened with their lack of understanding and insight.  Jesus spent three years teaching and being with the disciples and His followers and…

Jesus does not linger long here though.  He jumps right into the Scriptures and “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself”.  As they walked along the remainder of the seven mile journey to Emmaus, Jesus unpacks the Scriptures for them and connects all the Law and prophets to the Messiah, to himself.  It had to be amazing to experience how the whole Bible connects both to the Messiah and to itself.  It must have been wonderful to see how all of those individual books were part of one large story.  These two must have been astounded at this stranger’s teaching ability and knowledge.

And just think – all of this is available to you and I as well.  We have the Scriptures available to us – probably several copies.  It sits on the table or on our desk or on the nightstand.  We carry it with us and have instant access to it via our cell phones.  There are a ba-zillion reading plans, commentaries, studies, … out there to help us navigate through and to understand the Word of God.  When we regularly make the time to spend with the Word and when we invest in meditating on the Word, then we will be like these two walking along the road: we will encounter the risen Christ.  He is alive.  When we spend time with the Word of God, we encounter the risen Jesus there.  Be in the Word.  Encounter Jesus.


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This Day and Forevermore

Reading: Psalm 121

Today’s Psalm is one of my favorites.  To me it speaks of the encompassing nature of God.  In the opening lines we are reminded that God is the creator of all.  When I look up to or venture out into the Black Hills, I can see God’s fingerprints all over the place.  One does not have to live near the hills, however, to ‘see’ God’s hand.  One can look up to the stars, one can gaze out across the ocean, or one can even look at the beauty and intricacy of a flower or spider’s web.  And one can even ‘see’ God’s hand in the voice of the songbird or in the giggle of a small child.

The balance of the Psalm speaks to the ways in which the God who created all we know and see also pays attention to you and I.  God watches over where we tread and where we sleep.  God protects us from the harmful rays of the sun and moon.  God watches over us and keeps us from all harm – both now and forevermore.  His love and care for all of us is all-encompassing .

While God loves each and every one of us equally, we do not all know God’s love in the same way.  There are many who struggle through life trying to “do” life on their own.  There are even some regular church attenders who do not know how much God loves and cares for them.  To truly know just how all-encompassing God’s love and care is, one must know God in deep and meaningful ways.  To know God in this way requires a disciplined and obedient practice of the daily habits and exercises of the faith.  One cannot run to God only in the crisis.

To truly walk daily under the watch of the Lord, the Word had to be at our center.  Each day we must read and meditate on the Scriptures.  Each day we must spend time talking with God, both thanking God for our blessings and bringing Him our petitions as well.  In these ways we connect our heart to God.  And each day we must practice what God reveals to us in our time with the Bible and in our time talking with God.  We must love our neighbors, turn the other cheek, care for those in need, and lift one another in prayer.  The closer our daily walk is to God, the closer He walks with us.  May it be so this day and forevermore!


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Lent and Ashes

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-17

Lent begins today on Ash Wednesday.  We mirror Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness with a season in which we too prepare ourselves and look forward to Easter, when we celebrate our risen Lord.  On this Lenten journey we pray, study, meditate, fast, and repent as means of preparation.  We begin this journey with ashes.  As we repent and work to mirror Jesus, we must work to prune away all that is impure and force certain parts of ourselves to die.  The mark of the cross on our foreheads reminds us that we belong to Jesus.  The one we seek to follow and emulate walks with us.  As we undertake this Lenten journey, we know that we do not walk alone.

Psalm 51, the Ash Wednesday choice forever, opens with, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love”.  Verse three reminds us, “My sin is always before me”.  We live each and every day with this reality.  We are always in a battle with temptation and sin; Satan remains vigilant, always seeking to derail us, to draw us away from God.  We seek and desperately need God’s mercy because we fail.  We are assured of God’s unfailing love.  This is a beautiful thing.  In verse ten we read, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.  These words will be said often tonight.  This is our goal in this life – to live with a pure heart.  Creating a pure heart is the focus of our Lenten journey.  May we use verse ten often as a prayer to God in this holy season of Lent.

Lent is certainly a time to look inward and to prepare for the risen Christ.  But we must also look outward.  We do not live in a vacuum.  We live as a part of humanity.  As such, we are all connected together.  Verse thirteen reads, “then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will turn back to you”.  We are called as Christians to shine the light of Jesus out into the world.  Many are broken and hurting.  Each needs to experience God’s unlimited mercy, unfailing love, and endless forgiveness.  As we journey through Lent, preparing ourselves, may we also help others on their journey, bringing friends and strangers alike to the cross so that they too can know our risen Savior.


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God’s Ways

Reading: Psalm 119: 1-8

When we were little we learned our ABCs.  It was the first step in learning how to read.  Without knowing our letters, we could not decode words that were new to us as we learned to read.  Throughout life, much of what we learn, we read.  The ability to read and understand and learn is essential to doing well in life.  This skill is also important in our faith.  In our journey of faith, much of our growth comes in quiet moments reading and meditating on the Bible or a devotional or some other book relating to our faith.

Psalm 119 is written using the ABCs.  It is an acrostic.  Each line of the first stanza begins with aleph,the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Each line of the second stanza begins with beth, the second letter.  This pattern continues throughout the longest chapter in the Bible.  Unfortunately, we lose this unique feature in the translation.  Yet the idea and thought behind it remain a great tool to learn God’s Word.  The author was writing in an acrostic format to help the original readers remember better.  In this Psalm, the focus was on God’s ways or on the Law.  The pattern employed would help the readers to recall the Law, a very important part of life for all Jews.

At youth events where we have groups together for the first time, we often play the name game.  It is played in a circle and we go around and around saying “John jackalope” and “Lisa lizard” and so on until we all know each other’s names.  This is the concept in the Psalm.  Learning is so often a pattern or something that captures your attention so you can retain it better.

Verse two reads, “Blessed are they who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their hearts”.  I fully believe this is true.  But to keep God’s statutes and to seek Him fully, we must first know God.  To know God, we turn to the words we find in the Bible.  We begin by knowing the words of scripture.  There are many ways to come to know the words.  For some, it is writing out a verse to come back to over and over; for others it is reading the same few verses for a few days in a row, taking time to really consider their meaning.  One way does not fit everyone.  We each need to find our ‘best’ way to learn God’s ways and then use that ‘tool’ daily to grow in our understanding of God and to deepen our faith.  May we each take time daily to be in the Word and to learn His ways, so that we may be blessed as we follow God’s ways.