pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Our God Remains

Reading: Psalm 23: 1-4

Verse 4: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

Today’s passage is one of three this week that draw upon the image of shepherd and sheep. This is a common illustration in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In today’s passage, God is the shepherd and we are the sheep. The opening three verses detail the care that the shepherd provides. “I shall not be in want” – God will provide for our basic needs. “He makes me lie down” – God gives us periods of rest. “He restores my soul” – God brings us back into right relationship with Himself and with others in our lives. “He guides me” to learn more and more about God. God, our shepherd, offers good, loving care to each of us, the sheep of His fold.

Because of this daily and constant care, we come to trust in our God. Over and over and over our God has been present. This develops a deep sense of trust and reliance. Because of the trust, we will go where we would not. Because of the reliance, we turn quickly to God when we feel uncomfortable or are in unpleasant situations. Verse four reminds us of this. At times we walk in the “darkest valleys”. The loss of a loved one, a move to a new community, the ending of a relationship or employment, depression, anxiety, addiction – they all can feel like the darkest of valleys. These are not places we choose to go. But God chooses to go with us. In those dark valleys, God remains steadfast and true. Even there our God cares for, provides for, gives us peace and rest, even restores us. Because God remains with us always, we can always say, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. From our past experiences with our God, we can trust in Him.

Yesterday in church we sang a song called “You Never Let Go”. The pre-chorus contains these very words: “I will fear no evil, for my God is with me. And if my God is with me, whom then shall I fear”? Like Psalm 23, this song’s source, it is a great reminder that God remains present. The chorus goes on to remind us that “in every high and in every low” God never lets go of us. Whether today, tomorrow, or sometime down the road, when we find ourselves in the valley, may we always draw upon both the promises of God that we find in Psalm 23 and upon our own experiences of God’s steadfast presence, rejoicing in God’s love and care for us. You are our God. We will fear no evil. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, over and over you remain present. In the valleys you are there. When I stumble and sin, you remain present, calling me back into your presence. Even in the best of days, it is your hand that guides. Thank you, God. Remain ever present to me, each and every day. Thank you, God. Amen.

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God Restores

Reading: Psalm 126: 4-6

Verse 5: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

In our song of ascent this week we acknowledge with the psalmist that life is not always rosy. There will be times when it feels like our fortunes need restored too. The Negev is a dry, desert-like place in the southern part of Israel. There are many dry stream beds that flow only during the seasonal rains. In the understanding of the day, when God sends rain, it restores life and all are blessed. Looking to God in our dry or testing times can remind us of how God has restored us before and brought life back to us. To ask God to do that again is to remind ourselves that God is faithful and loving and will respond once again.

In verse 5 the psalmist writes, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”. In our day to day lives, the real world continues along. The sun will rise soon this morning, bringing light and warmth to the earth. The rains will perhaps fall here today and will push on to the east later in the day. All over the community students will make their way to school and adults will go to work. Some will go with a sadness or a hurt because of a situation or circumstance in their own lives. In our Psalm, some go out to work to sow seeds because that is what needs done that day. Some of these sow in tears. But like the rains that refresh the desert and bring life, God will restore the fortunes of those who weep. They will find joy in life and will harvest with songs of joy. They will bring in the sheaves with joy because God has poured down His blessings into their souls and lives with His presence and love and provision.

In our memory banks we can recall dry seasons that we have walked through. As people of faith we store them up not to remember the trials but to remind ourselves of how God was present in the trial and of how God led us past or out of the trial. We remember how God’s blessings restored our faith over and over. We build hope and trust in God’s continued love and care and provision from this day forevermore. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, you are so faithful and so good to me. Over and over again you have restored me and brought joy and hope back into my life. Thank you also for my times in the desert because there I come to know you face to face. Amen.


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A New Thing

Reading: Isaiah 43: 16-19a

Verses 18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing”.

Isaiah was a prophet of the Lord God who lived in the 7th century BC, at the time of the rise of the Assyrian empire. As a prophet he often wrote or spoke about Israel’s disobedience towards God and the consequences thereof. Isaiah also reminded the people of God’s covenant love for them. The opening verses of today’s passage, which point towards hope, are an example of this. Isaiah’s words are often referenced in the New Testament and are found in songs and other writings used in worship today.

In our passage God speaks to the people, through Isaiah. The passage begins with a reminder of a time when God’s hand was at work to save the Israelites. Just after their exodus from Egypt, Pharaoh sent the army to bring them back. But God parted the sea, allowed the Israelites to pass through, drew the Egyptians in, and closed the waters in over them, killing the entire army. It was a dramatic and powerful movement of God on behalf of His chosen people. During our lives we too experience times when God has done the same for us – intervened in a powerful way. Sometimes God rescues us, sometimes God restores us or renews us or provides for us. Each of the become a touchstone moment in our faith. Like the Red Sea experience for the Israelites, these are times we can look back on to find hope and strength for our current battle or struggle or trial.

God then changes directions and says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past”. The people must have been having a “woe is me” moment. They are aware of the storm rising on the horizon as the Assyrians grew in strength. Their current and soon to be circumstances must have felt overpowering. We too find ourselves here now and then. A life change ahead leaves us worried and fearful. Like the Israelites, we look for God to do another big thing.

But God is not going there. In verse 19, God says, “See, I am doing a new thing”. Be patient. Keep your eyes open. Look for how God is at work. What will God do in the midst of or in the aftermath of the storm? Don’t always expect grand and earth-moving. Trust and see what the Lord God is doing. Dig deep, allow God to work in God’s ways, transforming you along the way. See how God is at work in you!

Prayer: God of all possibilities, you are ever at work – in the world, in those around me, in me. Continue to be alive and active in my life, helping me to see the new thing. At times, help me to trust, to be patient, to wait upon you. Amen.


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Restored and Redeemed

Reading: Joshua 5: 9-12

Verse 9: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you”.

In our passage today, the Israelites have just moved into the Promised Land. God parted the Jordan River and they crossed over on dry ground. It is purposefully reminiscent of their crossing of the sea during their exodus from Egypt 40 years ago. The trip from the Red Sea to the Jordan River is not a 40 year walk. We recall that the Israelites wrestled with sin and doubt over and over again, leading them to “take one more lap around the desert”, as my good friend Kent likes to say.

All the men of “military age” that left Egypt have died in the desert and the people enter into the land first promised to Abraham. As a sign of their covenant relationship, also established under Abraham, all the males are circumcised. This was a physical sign of belonging, much as baptism is a sacred and symbolic sign of our belonging to the family of God. Now we get to today’s passage. After the circumcisions are complete, God says to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you”. In Egypt the people were slaves, they were heavily oppressed, and they experienced pain and suffering. In marking the Israelites as the chosen people once again, God is rolling away the time in Egypt and delivering them to a new land and back into relationship with Him. God is restoring and redeeming the people.

It was the people’s sin that made the journey last 40 years. If the Israelites were without sin, they could have walked straight from Egypt to the Promised Land in a matter of weeks. We too walk a similar path.

Our journey to become more and more like Jesus takes a lifetime. For those blessed with long life, it can take longer than 40 years. If we were without sin we would profess Jesus as Lord and Savior and go straight to heaven. But we are not without sin. Our faith journey, no matter how long or short, is just like the Israelites’ wander in the desert. We have times when we are very close to God in our walk of faith. We have our moments when God parts the sea and we walk right through it. But we also have times when we sin and live outside of a relationship with God. We have times when we worship idols and when we choose to separate ourselves from God. Just as God did not leave the Israelites to all die in the desert, God does not leave us lost in our sin. Why? Because God loves us. God reminds us over and over that we are all a beloved child of God and God goes to work over and over to restore and redeem us once again. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, at times I wander. We all do. When I do, call my name, bring me back to you. Restore and redeem me from my sins. But that is not all I am. At times, I walk closely with you, rejoicing in your love and presence. Help me to be there more often. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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Power

Reading: Luke 13: 31-35

Verse 31: “Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you'”.

Power is something Jesus, the Pharisees, and Herod all have. Power is something we all have too. The Pharisees and Herod see Jesus’ power as threatening to their power. We too can see Jesus’ power as something that can threaten our lives too.

Jesus uses His power to do good for others. He uses His power to teach a better way of life: the way of love. He also uses His power to heal and restore people. The physical healings of the blind, lame, deaf, crippled, mute, leprous… restore people back into community. The spiritual healings of the tax collectors, prostitutes, theives, adulterers… restore people to wholeness. Jesus’ power is a power that gives life to both the individual and the community.

The Pharisees’ and Herod’s power is centered upon themselves. It is used to take from others and to keep others down in order to build up their own comfort and prestige. It is the opposite of Jesus’ giving power. Some Pharisees say to Jesus, “Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you”. Go away Jesus, you are raining on our parade. Jesus sees right through them. Basically He says He has things to do and they or Herod cannot and will not get in the way.

This too is true of our power. When we follow God’s lead and use our power to do the right thing, to correct the wrong thing, to share Jesus’ love and care, to help one in need – nothing on earth can stop us. Yes, some can oppose us too and some can put up barriers, but they are just bumps in the road. Just as it was with Jesus, no obstacle can stop what God wants to accomplish in and through us. God will always prevail. This fact is what kept Jesus driving towards Jerusalem, towards the cross. Jesus had an unshakable faith in God’s plan. May we live the same way all day, every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, may I use the power I have in you to bring good, to offer love, to lift others up. Amen.


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Endures Forever

Reading: Psalm 138: 4-8

Verse 8: “The Lord will fulfill His purposes for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands”.

The psalmist begins our passage for today asking for all the kings of the earth to praise the Lord. He goes on to ask that they sing of the ways of the Lord. These are things that David did faithfully. David walked and ruled in faith and knows the value of other kings doing likewise.

It is not by coincidence that David next turns to remind us that God looks upon and knows the lowly. By contrast, the Lord chooses to remain far from the proud. Jesus’ ministry echoes this idea too. He certainly practiced this way of life. Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, hung out with the poor and marginalized, healed the shunned and outcasts. By contrast, Jesus did not spend much time with the proud – the wealthy, the Romans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees…

Throughout his lifetime, David learned that there was reward in walking with God. In verse 7 David speaks of how in times of trouble, “you preserve my life”, and of how “with your right hand you saved me”. Throughout his lifetime David experienced God rescuing and redeeming him. Each of these experiences helped David’s faith grow and deepen.

Because of the conscious choices to not be proud and to walk daily with God, David could own verse 8. He writes, “The Lord will fulfill His purposes for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands”. God anointed David as a young shepherd boy and then proceeded to fulfill that purpose for David. Even when David succumbed to great sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, God did not abandon him. Instead, that “love that endures forever” reached out through Nathan and drew David back into walking with the Lord.

Just as God did with David, God has plans for you and for me. Sometimes we don’t make choices or decisions that align with God’s plans. Sometimes we sin and separate ourselves from God for a time. Yet that love that endures forever always seeks to engage us, to draw us back in, to get us back on the path that God has for us.

Jesus also ministered to people with the same purpose. The healings brought people back into the community of faith. The teachings sought to create or renew a relationship with God. The times He said “go and sin no more” returned people to living as God intended them to live. All of these things were done in that same enduring love. We too know this love. We too have experienced this love. We are called to model this love and to share this love as we spread the good news of Jesus Christ. In doing so, others will come to know of God’s love that endures forever. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may I too humbly serve you, spreading your love abroad, drawing others to you. Amen.


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Your Call

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Verse 9: “Then the Lord… touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now I put my words in your mouth'”.

Jeremiah, like many of the prophets, received a call from God to be God’s voice to the people. For some, like Samuel and Elisha and others, the call seemed to be their destiny. It was what they had been born for. Such is the case with Jeremiah too, even though he did not seem to be aware of it. In verse 5 we read, “before I formed you in the womb… before you were born… I set you apart… I appointed you as a prophet”. It was who Jeremiah was created to be. Yet even he had his doubts. He said to God, “I am only a child”. We too have our doubts, our reasons, our rationales that we try and use with God.

During my long call into ministry, this happened often. I said I am only a middle school teacher when the call came asking me to teach a high school Sunday school class. I said I am just a volunteer when the call came asking me to lead the youth group. I said I am only a youth leader when the call came to help lead a congregation. Yet at each step God continued to call me onward. In my own way I kept hearing verse 7: “you must go to everyone I send you and say whatever I command you”. God has been faithful. God has been present. God has gone with me every step of the way.

Jeremiah questioned, I questioned, maybe you question too. Perhaps your call is not to be a prophet or a pastor, perhaps it is. Whatever our vocation, the call is the same – to speak and reveal the truth as we share and live out the Word of God. The promises we hear today are the same no matter our calling. When we are willing to go and to trust in God, we all experience verse 9: “Then the Lord… touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now I put my words in your mouth'”. We might not speak the word of God to a nation or even to a congregation. We might just speak it to one person at a time. The size of the audience does not matter. It matters not because the word of God has the power to save, to redeem, to restore, to heal… each that hears it, whether one or one million. So may we all boldly share the word of God today that God places in our hearts and mouths. May we boldly step out in faith, knowing “I am with you”. We do not go alone. God is with us.

Prayer: God, I trust that you will go with me wherever I go today. May the Holy Spirit lead and guide me, bringing me just the words I need to share you with one in need of you. Amen.