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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Remember

Reading: Genesis 28: 16-19a

Verse 18: Jacob took the stone… and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it.

During the night, Jacob has an amazing encounter with God.  When he wakes up the next morning, he reflects back on this encounter.  His first thought is of surprise – he did not expect God to be in this place.  It was simply where Jacob stopped because it was getting dark out.  As he lay his head down on his rock, sleep was all he expected.  Jacob’s comment, “I was not aware” reveals his surprise.  On the one hand, we think God is everywhere all the time.  But on the other hand, it surprises us when God shows up in a big and unexpected way at a random place.

Once Jacob realized that God was very present, he shifts for a moment to fear.  The text reads “he was afraid” so it is not a healthy fear or a reverence for God.  If God were to speak to me in an audible, direct way, true fear would also be part of my reaction.  When our omnipresent God becomes direct and personal, one reaction would be fear.  God is talking to me?  Gulp.

Jacob quickly moves past fear and into celebration.  He says aloud, “How awesome is this place”!  Here God has chosen Jacob as being worthy of direct conversation.  Jacob is excited that God spoke to him here.  It is a place he always wants to remember, so “Jacob took the stone… and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it”.  It will always be a place of remembrance for Jacob.  It is where God spoke to him.  He builds an altar, using the rock that was his pillow, and he consecrates it with oil.  The altar will also help others to know and remember.

When we have significant personal encounters with God, how do we remember them?  At a meaningful and powerful remembrance of baptism service, I was given a small stone.  I carry it daily in my pocket as a reminder of when God drew especially close to me.  In your next powerful encounter with God, seek a physical way to remember the experience.  It will be a tangible reminder that will lead you to rejoice and give thanks for God’s hand at work in your life.


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Share the Story

Reading: Psalm 146: 5-10

We love a good story.  Good stories make us feel better, they help us to remember significant and important events in our history and in our lives.  A good story can teach us much as well.  And a good story is one that is told over and over again.  The audience is just as excited to hear a good story as they were when they first heard it.

Psalm 146 is a good story, maybe even a great story.  This Psalm would have been as well known as “Amazing Grace” is today.  The Israelites would have sung this story over and over again – they would have known it by heart.  It would have been sung in worship, as one made dinner or plowed the field, as one walked along the road.  It would have been taught to children when they were very young.  It would have been sung or at least been on the minds of many as they neared drawing their last breath.

The words of Psalm 146 can make one feel better.  These words help recall significant and important events.  The words teach much about faith and about God.  Hear again the words!  Blessed us he whose help, whose hope is in the Lord.  God is the maker of heaven and earth.  The Lord upholds the cause of the oppressed and frustrates the ways of the wicked.  The Lord our God gives good to the hungry, sets prisoners free, gives sight to the blind.  Our Father sustains the orphan and the widow.  The Lord reigns forever!

What a story Psalm 146 shares!  It is a good, good story.  May we share the story today and tomorrow and the day after that and…


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For I am with You

Reading: Haggai 1:15b to 2:9

Remember when America was great?  A TV in every living room and a car in every driveway…  This was the ‘land of opportunity’, the place where hundreds of thousands came to make a better life for themselves.  Every parent’s dream was for their children to be better off than they themselves were.  It was a significant event when that first child from a family went off to college.  Remember the good old days?!

Haggai speaks to the people in a time just after the Babylonian exile has ended.  The people returning to Jerusalem and other communities remembered their homes and the temple in an idealized way.  All was beautiful and perfect in their mind’s eye.  But they return to a temple in ruins, to homes that show decades of neglect.  There is such a disconnect between what they envisioned and their reality that it is depressing and causes them to question all that matters, especially their faith.

We too can experience this remembering of a glorified past.  It can be physical – like when one returns to the old family home and thinks, “My this bedroom is small, I remember it being bigger”.  This can also happen in our faith.  Like those returning to Jerusalem, we too can return to our faith after a time of exile.  After we have been away from God for a while, we come to return and expect God’s magnificent presence to be there all the time.  We recall our ‘mountaintop’ faith moment and want to reclaim that feeling.  But our reality is that often times our faith must be rebuilt, just like the homes and temple that the people of Haggis’s had to rebuild.

The Lord speaks to Haggai as this large task has deflated the people.  “Be strong all you people of the land and work.  For I am with you…  I will fill this house with glory”.  These are our promises too.  Be strong, stay true to our faith, work at it.  God is with us.  God loves us.  God will fill each of us, all of us, with God’s glory.  God is faithful.  May we be too.


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Remember and Recognize

Reading: Psalm 66: 1-12

Like the psalmist, there are times in our lives where God is present, when God acts on our behalf.  To recall these times is an essential practice of our faith.  When the Israelites remember how God turned away their enemies or when God led them through the sea or when God brought them into the promised land, they are reminding themselves of God’s love for them and, in turn, of their love for God.  This leads them to worship and praise God.

God is also active and present in our lives.  We too have experiences that we can identify and note as moments when God was especially near or when God acted in our lives.  These times are moments in our lives that we too must occasionally remember and be in the moment for doing so connects us to God as well.  Whether we record these moments in a journal or mentally store them does not matter.  What is important is that we periodically review when God walked with us in a time of need, when God carried us through a crisis, or when God blessed us with a child or job or healing or …  When we do this we are reminded, just as the Israelites were each time they sang a Psalm, of God’s love for us and of our live for God.  It keeps our connection to God strong when we regularly offer our praise and thanksgiving.

In regularly recognizing God’s presence and activity in our lives, we are also made aware of God’s presence in smaller things.  We sense God in the sunrise or in the beautiful song of the bird.  We see God in the grateful face of one we stop to help or talk to.  Soon we are thanking God and praising God for all of the blessings we have in our lives.  This day may we be attuned to God’s presence in our lives and may we offer many grateful responses.


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The Power to Save

Today is All Saints’ Day, a day we remember the faithful who have died in the past year.  For our church, twenty pictures will be shown and twenty names read.  With the reading of each name we will remember the grace, faith, and love that each person shared with their life.  We will recall how we ministered and witnessed alongside each as well.  And we will again celebrate the victory won by each through their saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading is the story of Lazarus.  Jesus arrives late at the scene – four days after he has died.  Mary, Martha, and many family and friends are grieving.  Mary voices what many are thinking, “If only you’d arrived sooner.”  They believe Jesus could have healed him.  Jesus is touched deeply.  He cries for his friends and is moved to do something extraordinary.  Jesus raises Lazarus to life.  Was it to alleviate the intense sadness felt by all?  Was it to give a glimpse of the victory to be won over death in Jesus’ resurrection?  Was it both?

On this day and in this story we are reminded that Jesus is there with us in our lives.  He cried and hurt for his friend Lazarus and for those who grieved for him.  In our grief He hurts right along with us as well.  We are also reminded that death does not have the last word.  For all the saints we recognize today and one day for us as well, Jesus has the power to save.  May we too all one day hear, “Well done good and faithful servant” as we each experience Jesus’ victory over death.

Scripture reference:  John 11: 32-44


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Hello… remember me?

God is a mighty God who watches over us and cares for us.  He is a powerful, benevolent, and passionate God.  In Psalm 68 we read of God bringing rains of abundance upon His people.  We are blessed today too.

But how often we forget to praise His name for all He is and does for us.  Sometimes we may even start to think that success is because of our efforts and our own hard work.  Possessions start to fill our lives instead of God.

And then reality hits.  Life becomes hard.  A sudden illness, a conflict at work or at home, something to bring us back to the realization that we are not really the one in control.  We come to realize that only God is in control.  It is then that we turn back and say, “Hello God… remember me?”

All we have and all that we are comes from God.  Nothing is outside of God.  May we all learn to thank God each day so that we live always in His holy presence.  May we live this way so that He doesn’t have to say so often, “Hello child… remember me?”