pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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First and Always

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 3: “Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test'”?

Moses is leading the people on a journey to the Promised Land. It will be a forty years journey. When I think of the length of the journey, it reminds me of the long drives to Montana. Sometimes before we even left South Dakota, the “Are we there yet?” refrains would begin. When that happened I knew it was going to feel like a long trip. Even though it was only an eleven hour drive, I think it felt a little bit like Moses was feeling in our passage today.

The Israelites have recently been rescued from slavery in Egypt. In this process, God brought plague upon plague, finally breaking Pharaoh’s spirit with the death of the firstborn. The Israelites were passed over by the angel of death. This miracle became an event they celebrate every year, to this day. The hand of God continued to be upon Moses as he parted the sea and saved the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptian army. God has just provided manna, quail, and water to all the people. As they set out once again the people find themselves at a place with no water. Instead of turning to God in prayer, thanking him for the many saving acts that they have just experienced and seeking one more, they choose to grumble at and quarrel with Moses. In response Moses asks, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test“? I imagine God was thinking the same thing, don’t you?

At times I’m sure I’ve made God think that. I know God loves and cares for me, provides for and protects me, leads me and guides me. Even so, trust in God is not always my default response when a need arises or when I find myself in a time of trial. Seeking God is usually my first response, but not always. And it should be always. Maybe you are like me and know your need to turn to God first and always. As we remember how dearly loved we are by God may we make intentional efforts this week to rely first on God in all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, I know no one loves me like you do. No one has good plans for me like you do. May the Spirit remind me of these things over and over as I seek to follow Jesus more closely. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Verse 10: “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan’! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'”.

After forty days of prayer and fasting Jesus is tempted by Satan. The tempting begins with the most immediate need: food. Not having eaten for a long time, Satan goes after the apparent weakness. We too face these attacks in our lives. For those living with hardships it can be easy to question God about how he is providing for food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. For those a little better off the new car or new home can be the provision that Satan dangles in front of the eyes. For some they may ask God why they only have a net worth of $3,000,000. Few are immune to the lures of want and greed. Contentment can be an elusive target.

Failing at the first attempt, Satan turns to testing Jesus’ relationship with God. Satan places Jesus in a position to throw himself off the tower. Let’s see if God will rescue you, Jesus. To turn away this temptation Jesus reminds Satan that we are not to test God. But oh how we can test God. Maybe it is with the crazy physical things we do. It could be reckless living or excessive consumption. It could be willful disobedience to see if God really loves us. At times this can also manifest itself in times of trial or grief. We ask or wonder why we are going through something; we wonder why it goes on and on. These thoughts are testing God or questioning God’s love for us, his plans for our lives.

When this does not work either, Satan offers Jesus the supreme enticement: power. Some crave all-out, total power over all aspects of life. Some just like to be in control of their own lives and decisions. Most of us fall somewhere in between. The lengths we will go to to attain or maintain our desired level of power can vary, but too often we can rationalize away whatever we seem necessary to reach that goal. Along the way we can bow down to any number of idols or false gods. In each case we are ultimately choosing to put self and our will ahead of God and his will. Jesus knew the only correct order: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.

The Christian journey is not easy. Satan is ever at work. To stay the course requires obedience, faith, and trust in God alone. May God ever be our companion on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you and your Spirit were with Jesus as he faced temptations, so too be with me. I am weak and Satan seems to know the chinks in my armor. Stand guard in those places, Lord. Be my shield and defender as I work to die to those sins. Build up my hope and faith in you alone. Amen.


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6: 4-8

Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”?

Our passage today begins with God reminding the people of all that God has recently done for them. God gave them leaders and brought them out of slavery. God guided them to the promised land, performing righteous act after righteous act all along the way. How could the people be so disconnected from a God that has shown them so much love? Yet if we took a few minutes to reflect on how God has led us, guided us, blessed us, forgiven us, rescued us… we too might be a bit ashamed of how disconnected we can be from God for periods or even seasons in our lives.

Micah then asks an important, self-reflective question. In verse six he asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”? If we more frequently asked this question, we would be connected to God more of our lives. Micah goes on to ask if God really desires burnt offerings of calves or rams or if God really needs thank offerings equivalent to rivers of oil. Micah even wonders if the sacrifice of the firstborn child would cleanse the sin of his soul. Our questions are a little different but come from the same place. Is it not enough God that I’ve been to church two out of four Sundays most months? Is it not enough that I gave to the church some of what I had left at the end of the month? Didn’t I check off enough boxes to be blessed by you, O God?! The people of Micah’s day were going through the motions of being God’s people. They were all about doing.

In verse eight Micah reminds them and us of what God desires: “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God”. These are ways of being. These are ways of the heart. When we are people of justice, mercy, and humility, we are closely connected to the core of who God is. May we be people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and with our fellow humans. May it always be so.

Prayer: Father God, in all I do and say and think, help me to do it justly. In all I do and say and think, help me to lead with mercy. In all I do and say and think, help me to walk humbly, elevating you and others far above self. Draw me to you, O God. Amen.


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Light in the Darkness

Reading: Isaiah 9: 1-2

Verse 1: “In the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles”.

We have all experienced times of isolation and darkness. These can be caused by an illness. For example, when the flu or other sickness drags on and on, we reach a point that feels like we’ve been sick forever. Isolation or darkness can also be caused by mother nature. A fierce winter snowstorm can leave us stuck in the house for a number of days. Soon enough we begin to feel closed in upon and cut off from the rest of the world. In these and other similar experiences, we long to be reconnected with others, to be freed from that which binds us. In this sense we can relate to Zebulun and Naphtali, the two lands that Isaiah writes to in our passage today.

These two tribes were conquered and have been living under a foreign power’s oppression for many years. It has been so long that they feel like this is just life. Their time of isolation and darkness has gone on for generations. Many of the people have given up hope for a different tomorrow, slowly coming to accept this situation as the new normal. Isaiah indicates that this situation was God’s way of humbling these two tribes. It is into this situation that Isaiah brings today’s words of hope.

The passage opens with this declaration: “there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress”. The oppression will not be forever. Isaiah continues with words of hope, adding, “in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles”. The time is not right now but it is coming. God has a plan to rescue and restore Zebulun and Naphtali. And not only these two tribes but the Gentiles as well. In verse two Isaiah goes on to write, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. In the future the light will dawn. They are, in fact, a long way from the end of the tunnel – 700 years. But there is hope now because there is light at the end of the tunnel.

We too can claim this hope and promise as well as helping others claim it as well. Isaiah speaks of a God who will not allow suffering to be endless. According to God’s plan, all things will be made new. In the interim, we are promised life abundant. We will suffer and feel isolation and darkness at times. This is unavoidable in our earthly life. But the light is close. God’s love never fails. The Spirit’s presence is always with us – we are never alone. We can lean into God, trusting in his plans, holding to the light and love of Jesus. We know the great light. May we cling to Jesus every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my strength and my shield, my light and my hope. In all times, but especially in the hard times, remind me over and over of your love and care. Help me to be these things to people walking in isolation and darkness, that they might get a glimpse of you. Amen.


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Yes Lord!

Reading: Psalm 30: 1-5 and 11-12

Verse 2: “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”.

Psalm 30 is a song of dedication to the temple. It is written as a reminder that God is our helper, our healer, our rescuer… It is a song of thanksgiving and praise, of assurance and remembrance. David opens the Psalm by exalting God for rescuing him in a time of need. In verse two he sings out, “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”. This personal rejoicing and thanking God is something we all have done and will continue to do throughout our lifetimes. The love of God for us is a steadfast and limitless love. David has good reason to rejoice, as do we all.

As the Psalm continues, David recalls how God’s favor lasts a lifetime. Like with Mary and Elizabeth, two who found favor with God, David has come to know that it is a forever blessing. David does acknowledge that sorrow will come, but that it does not last. Through God’s presence, he recounts the joy that comes with the morning. With God, David will not be shaken. With God, David will be able to stand firm. We too serve this same God. His favor and joy extends to us. In faith we too can stand firm. Yes, the trials will come. The sorrow will visit on occasion. Like David, we too can cry out to the Lord, trusting that the Lord our God will be our help.

Verses eleven and twelve close out Psalm 30. Each time I read those words I am connected to the song “Trading My Sorrows”. It draws upon these words. Song author Darrell Evans writes of trading his sorrow, shame, sickness, and pain for the joy of the Lord. He too remembers times when he was crushed, when he was struck down. He was crushed but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. God remained present. God remains present to each of us too. The chorus of this song is a repetition of the words, “Yes, Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes, Lord”. It acknowledges what the Psalm closes with: “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever”.

This day and every day, may we trade our sorrows… for God’s joy. In grateful response may our whole lives thank the Lord our God. May it be so as we say, yes Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, you are my healer, my redeemer, my rescuer, my friend. Over and over your joy has come with the morning. You set my feet upon your firm foundation. I will not be shaken. May all my life sing out yes Lord, yes Lord! Amen.


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Encouraging and Uplifting

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4: 16-18

Verse 17: “The Lord stood by my side and gave me strength, so that the message might be fully received”.

As a young married couple my wife and I became part of a couple’s group at our church. Each month when we would gather, we would talk about marriage and we would listen to the stories of the two older couples who led the group. Their experiences made our marriages better. Over the course of the past 20+ years I have been blessed to be in and eventually to lead numerous Bible studies and other small groups. In each of these settings there were always more experienced disciples of Christ. From these would and do come stories of faith and of when God acted in their lives. These witnesses to the faith were encouraging and uplifting for my journey of faith.

Paul has been mentoring young Timothy. He has chosen him to carry on the work of spreading the gospel. Paul is entrusting his life’s work to this young disciple. Timothy has shown himself capable and gifted. This is not a random selection. So in today’s passage Paul has a few stories to share with Timothy. He begins by sharing that at times one may feel alone in ministry – “everyone deserted me”. Paul quickly follows up with a deeper truth: “The Lord stood by my side and gave me strength, so that the message might be fully received”. God did not ever desert him! Just the opposite – God delivered him “from the lion’s mouth”. With an assurance based on both faith and experience, Paul adds that God has rescued him from every evil attack and will continue to do so as God brings Paul “safely to his heavenly kingdom”. Paul is sharing his faith and his experiences as a way to encourage and uplift young Timothy.

As I have progressed into my middle years, I find that I too have some stories to share. On the journey of faith we all have experiences when God guided or intervened or rescued us. These are the stories we have to tell to encourage and uplift those that we gather with on Sunday mornings, that we sit around a table with, that we work with… Like Paul, may we be intentional about passing the faith along to both those in our lives who are on the journey with us and to those yet to begin the journey, all for the glory of God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the journey so far. You have been with me in many ways and many times. Each experience with you builds up my faith and helps me grow closer to you. Open my eyes to the blessings and to the opportunities to share my faith with others. Amen.


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Come and See

Reading: Psalm 66: 1-12

Verse 5: “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works on man’s behalf”.

Psalm 66 speaks of God’s love for the faithful. The psalmist encourages us to shout with joy and to sing the glory of his name. When we consider the deeds of God, they are very awesome. Verse five invited us into praise and into these deeds, saying, “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works on man’s behalf”. Rejoice in what the Lord has done!

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading worship at the two assisted living facilities in town. The message I shared was based on 2nd Timothy 4. In this passage, Paul encourages Timothy to preach the good news with patience. As I was working on the message earlier in the week, it occurred to me that the second half of the passage, verses six through eight, spoke not only of how Paul had “fought the good fight” but of how many who would gather in those rooms had done so as well. I shared with them how it brought me great joy and how it encouraged me as I thought of the witness to the faith that they have lived out their 70, 80, and even 90+ years. With slightly teary eyes I thanked them for their examples of faith.

In Psalm 66 the writer first focuses in on when God led the people through the waters on dry land. Whether this refers to the parting of the sea or of the Jordan River or both does not matter. Either way it recalls the story of when God acted on behalf of the people. A little later, in verses ten through twelve, the psalmist recalls another time when God acted. It could refer to the exodus from Egypt or the return from exile in Babylon. Again, in either case, these were seasons of difficulty that ended with God’s action and in the long run increased their faith.

In our faith journeys we have these experiences too. We have all been rescued by God. We have all come through a trial with a stronger faith. We too have “come and see” stories of the awesome things that God has done in our lives. Like the psalmist, may we also share the story of our God who reigns forever.

Prayer: O God of all the earth, how wonderful are the works of your hands. I rejoice in the words of the Bible when I read of your actions. I also rejoice in the ways you have been and are at work in my life. Thank you for your abiding presence and for your constant love. Amen.