pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Trust

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse 5: “I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”.

David follows the typical pattern found in lament Psalms: pouring out his heart and his pain and then coming to the Lord in praise. I think that this pattern is typical of many of our deepest relationships. At times we need to express the hurt or frustration or anger that we are experiencing and then we can move on in that situation or relationship. On a smaller scale that is “venting” or “letting off steam”. On a bigger scale it can be finally having that really good cry. Both bring relief or cleanse our thoughts and emotions enough so that we can focus on what really matters. For persons of faith, that means focusing first on God and on our relationship with God.

In verse five David finally gets to this point. Here he writes, “I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”. Head and heart being expressed, he can now turn to the more eternal, more powerful force: God. I too can get bogged down in the worldly stuff from time to time. It can be a difficult situation or it can just be from too much busyness. In those times the focus becomes more on me and my concerns. God seems to take more of a back seat. Then I end up where David is in the first few verses of Psalm 13 – feeling distant from God and wondering where God went. Soon enough God reminds me that it was me who created distance, me who allowed something else to take priority in my life or heart or mind. In a passage or something I read, in a song or in the words of a friend, I am reminded of that unfailing love and of the hope I have in his saving grace. It is then that a song or prayer of praise fills my heart.

Songs of lament are good reminders that life will be hard at times. We will struggle, especially when we shift our eyes and focus from the one who is worthy of our praise. Today’s Psalm reminds us to allow ourselves to feel and to express our emotions to God, trusting in his love and care. May we ever turn to God, the rock of our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, in the highs and lows, you are the same. Whether I am on the mountaintop or in the depth of the valley, you are steadfast and true. Remind me over and over to turn to you, to hold fast to you. You are my rock and only hope. Amen.


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Path of Life

Reading: Acts 2:28

Verse 28: “You have made known to me the paths of life: you will fill me with joy in your presence”.

Today’s reading was just one verse. It has two parts which are interrelated. The first half of the verse centers on the “paths of life”. What does David mean by this phrase? Just as it was for David, so it was for the man quoting him in this verse. Peter was a man who was a work in progress as he learned the path of following Jesus. That path, after all, is the path of life. Like David and Peter, we too are a work in progress. As Methodism founder John Wesley put it, we are on a “journey to perfection”. What he meant by this is that faith is an ongoing journey to become more and more like the perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ.

Also like David and Peter, we too have failures in our walk with the Lord. Our failures might not reach the level of adultery and murder or of total denial of our faith, but in our own ways we break our relationship with the Lord. Whether that comes a million times through what we think are “small” sins that we struggle with or through a season pursuing the things of this world or caught up in an addiction that feels like a “big” sin, it does not matter. All sin separates us from God. The path of sin is not the path of life. The Lord never gave up on David or on Peter. He will not ever give up on you or me either.

The second half of the verse today centers on joy. Joy and happiness are not the same thing. The world wants us to be happy. We think possessions or titles or popularity will bring us joy. Pursuit and attainment of these earthly things does make us feel good. But the feeling does not last. There is no joy in things. As we study and learn the ways of Jesus, we see that his life revolved around serving others, sharing a relationship with others, healing the brokenness and isolation of others, forgiving other’s sins. His life as a loving and humble servant is our model. We will find what he found when we walk his path. When we give ourselves away, we do not lose but we gain. When we humbly serve God and others, we are filled with a joy that is everlasting. This is the path of life. May we give of ourselves freely and generously today, in whatever form that may be.

Prayer: Father God, help me to walk on the path of your son, Jesus Christ. Help me to love extravagantly today. May I be poured out in service to you and to all I meet today. Amen.


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Servant

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 3: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor”.

At the time of Isaiah, the Israelites are in exile in Babylon. They are living in a foreign culture that worships many gods. They are far outside of their normal ways of life and all the comfort and routine that it brings. The Israelites long for what was. Even though they know the temple and Jerusalem have been destroyed, it is still home. It is where God is found.

On our journeys of faith we can experience times in exile, times when we feel distant or separated from God. Depending on the root cause of our exile, the time there can vary. If it is a “small” sin, for example, one that we can confess and repent of easily, then our time of separation can be short. But if we sit in our sin or if the guilt or shame becomes too great, then the exile can lengthen. In these cases we come to the place the Israelites find themselves – we long to be restored and forgiven, but we feel stuck or trapped.

Today’s passage is the third of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs”. These songs tell of a servant who will draw the people back to Israel, restoring the twelve tribes. For the Israelites, they would find hope and promise in these words. Their first and immediate question would be: when? In verse three we read, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor”. The people long for God’s splendor to once again be shown in and through them. They long to be back home, back to living in right relationship with God.

The words of the prophet Isaiah ring true with us too. God desires to shine in and through us, his servants. God longs to be in right relationship with each of us, to restore and redeem us. The Holy One has chosen us too. May we walk in the light of Christ, the Redeemer, helping others to walk in the light of Christ too.

Prayer: Lord God, you called me by name. You have restored me and brought me back over and over. In my human weakness you have been so strong. You guide and lead me. Today, as I seek to walk with you and to shine your light into the world, guide my words and thoughts. Fill them with all of you. This day, once again, use me as you will. Amen.


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God Invites Us Deeper

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

Verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”.

One cannot hardly help reading these verses and being drawn into the sadness of the situation. God has been just in exiling the people because of their sins. Yet the barrenness and emptiness of Jerusalem evoke feelings of sadness and mourning in us thousands of years later. In our hearts we can easily empathize when we read, “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”. Perhaps tears roll down our cheeks.

In our own lives we too will experience hardship, loss, death, change, separation, and maybe even exile. Sometimes these experiences come upon us not because of anything we have done or not done. We simply find ourselves present in the valley. These experiences can be hard and painful. They vary too. There is grief and sadness, for example, when a 92-year-old faithful saint passes on. Yet our reading from Lamentations feels more like the unexpected loss of a young child. In such instances we weep like the woman who cries bitter tears, not quite understanding the reality that she finds herself in.

At other times we have a hand in the calamity that brings us to the valley. There were many who went into exile and some left behind that were guilty of the sins that precipitated God’s action. When we have been guilty and experience hardship or worse because of our choices or actions, we must acknowledge the role we played before offering repentance and seeking reconciliation. This can be a process. Denial and blame shifting can prolong the exile. For Israel, the exile lasted a long time. There was much work to do. We too can remain there for a period of time if we refuse to admit our role or to acknowledge our imperfections.

Whether we are “innocent victims” or if we had a role in the hardship or failure or “exile”, these experiences offer us the opportunity for transformation and growth. In the valleys we are reminded both of our inability to solve all things and of God’s omnipotent ability to do anything. From the valley, God invites us into deeper relationship as we walk the shadows. God’s hand reaches out in love, seeking to heal and transform us into something new. In faith may we reach out to God, our rock and redeemer, our rescuer and restorer, our healer and our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, the valley is an uncomfortable place to be. The feeling of isolation and grief are hard to bear. Help me to walk with you, to lean upon you. I know you do not want me to bear them alone. Bend my face to yours, hold my hand tightly. Guide me through to once again walk fully in your light and love. Amen.


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Go

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 9b-15

Verse 9b: “What are you doing here”?

Earlier this week I looked at verses 1 through 9a in this same chapter. To review quickly, Elijah angered the queen, fled in fear, and was cared for and guided by God to the cave on Mount Horeb. In the morning, God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here”? This is a question that I think God asks often.

Fear and worry and doubt and job fatigue led Elijah to flee – to hide from the world. I can relate to some of these emotions and to Elijah’s response to them. Once in a great while monastic life seems like a great idea. His loving God leads Elijah to a safe place, to a cave atop a mountain, far away from his enemies and from the world. Until God asks this question, the cave is a comfortable place for Elijah.

When I retreat it is not usually to a cave or to any other physical place. When I do retreat it is usually into myself. In those moments when the world seems against me or when it seems to be closing in, I withdraw emotionally. In my mind I disconnect. I try and create felt distance and separation. But soon enough, God asks, “What are you doing here”?

Elijah has a response. He has been thinking about it. He knows the question is coming. This process is familiar to me too. Elijah tells God that he has been “very zealous for the Lord God Almighty” – I’ve been working really hard for you God. And these people – these Israelites – they have broken the covenant. Why would I want to be with those sinners? And then the ice cream atop the cake – “I am the only one left”. Woe is me. Have you been here? I certainly have.

The God says, in essence, ‘Come here. Come here Elijah’. Elijah goes to the entrance to the cave and the noise of the world passes by. The wind, the earthquake, the fire – those are the threats of Jezebel, the fears of the world, the self-pity. Then Elijah hears a gentle whisper. Ah, God has arrived. It is significant that God comes in the calm, in the quiet.

But once again Elijah tries the “I’ve been so busy…” excuses. God simply says, “Go…”. Return to the world, go where I am sending you. I will be with you. God knows we will stumble and falter too. God says the same thing to us: go, go where I lead. I will be with you. God continues to lead Elijah every step of the way. God will do the same for us. So, go.

Prayer: God, in those moments when I too doubt or fear or feel wrung out, come and push me back out into the world. Use me for what you will. Strengthen and encourage and fill me for the task at hand. Help me to ever step forth in faith. Amen.


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Come

Reading: Revelation 22: 1-5

Verse 4: “They will see His face, and His name will be on their forehead”.

With the coming of the new Jerusalem humanity and God return to their original relationship. Before sin entered the world, God walked and talked daily with Adam and Eve. But sin entered and created separation. Thousands of years later God began the work of final restoration as He took on flesh and walked among humanity once again. In the person of Jesus, God demonstrated the obedience that was lost in the garden. Obedience was fully demonstrated as Jesus went to the cross to be the final sacrifice for our sins, there defeating the power of sin. Through the resurrection from the grave, Jesus defeated the power of death too. It no longer has the final word. Yet sin and death remain. We continue to live in a broken world. Our relationship with sin and death has changed though – we no longer live in bondage to them. We are no longer slaves, but we are still subject to them.

John’s vision in Revelation looks to a day when sin and death will be no more. One day Christ will return and banish sin, death, and all brokenness forever. Maybe it will be tomorrow. Maybe it will be a few or many generations from now. We do not know when Jesus will return to make all things new. But we know He will. And we know what it will be like. The creation will return to the time before sin. “They will see His face, and His name will be on their forehead”. Like Adam and Eve once did, all who are children of God will be daily in His presence. There will be no separation. The curse that came through the first sin will be no more. All who are in the new Jerusalem will be constantly in God’s presence.

As Revelation 22 and the Bible close out, three times Jesus says to John, “I am coming soon”. The Spirit and the bride, the church, respond by saying, “Come”! John invites all who are thirsty to come, to come and to take the free gift of the water of life. Before his final blessing, John writes, “Come, Lord Jesus”. May we join in the invitation today, proclaiming come, Lord Jesus, come!

Prayer: Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, come! Come and walk with me this day. Return again tomorrow and the next tomorrow and forever. One day may that walk be in your presence. Until then, may we walk in harmony and love. Amen.


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The Healer

Reading: Mark 6: 53-56

Verse 56: “They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed”.

Illness and disease can separate us. When we have minor maladies like the flu or a cold, we often want to be left alone. Only the closest of family wants to be around us. After not too many days we long to return to good health and the company of others. When the illness or disease is cancer or something else difficult to treat, some people will shy away or disconnect because the discomfort level is high. Today, though, most of us have access to good medical care and most diseases do not affect our relationships and connections to family and friends. This was not the case in Jesus’ day.

At the time our passage occurred, illness usually meant isolation. To a devout Jew, illness meant sin and that created a barrier. Some groups, lepers for example, were forced to live in isolated communities, away from all family and friends. Contact with blood or a dead body made one unclean and meant a period of separation and purification. People with most diseases not only faced isolation and stygma; they had very few medical options as well. There was no clue what many illnesses even were, much less any cures. So we can begin to imagine what hope came with the rumors of Jesus’ healing touch coming to a town near you.

Mark records that when people heard Jesus was near, they ran and carried the sick on mats to where He was. Wherever Jesus went, the sick amassed. Many, many would do the same today if given the chance. Imagine how those with no hope would run! Imagine how those with no money or coverage for care would run to where Jesus was! Mark writes, “They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed”. It is a powerful image to hold in our minds. Not only to be restored physically but emotionally and spiritually and relationally. It was quite a healing that Jesus offered.

Today many seek healing. For some it is physical but for others it is spiritual and/or relational. In this time and place, in a few moments of quiet, may we pray for those we know who need healing. May we lift them up to Jesus, bringing them before the Healer.


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Disobedience

Reading: 1 Samuel 15: 34-35

Verse 35: “The Lord was grieved that He made Saul king over Israel”.

Today our passage marks the beginning of a transition in the leadership of Israel. Saul was Israel’s first king. If we remember, it was the people who begged for a king, rejecting God as their leader. Saul was a good king at first, but then he became disobedient to God and chose to follow his own plan instead. When confronted by Samuel, Saul does admit his sin, but his fate is sealed. We read, “The Lord was grieved that He made Saul king over Israel”. It made God sad that the one He chose to lead was disobedient.

Acts of disobedience are familiar to us as well. Even though we have an overall good relationship with God and are faithful most of the time, we can also be disobedient periodically. This is because we are human. Like Saul, we sadden God when we choose to disobey. We can think we know it all can make decisions that are not in line with God’s will and ways. We can have a clear sense of where God is trying to lead yet we go the other way. We can definitely feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit but still choose to ignore it and to even do just the opposite. We too can be disobedient.

In our passage today, we also read about Samuel’s reaction to Saul’s disobedience and rejection of God. We read that Samuel mourned for Saul. As sinful people, we find ourselves on both sides of this scenario. At times we grieve for our fellow brothers and sisters who stumble and spend a time living in sin. We grieve for the separation that they have from God. Sometimes our words or actions cause others to be hurt or to grieve. We also grieve God in these moments or seasons when sin or disobedience has the upper hand in our lives.

But, thanks be to God, our story or the relationship that we have with God does not end in disobedience. Because Jesus Christ was obedient to death on a cross, He paved the way for our possible victory over sin and ultimately over death. If humility and repentance are our response to sin in our life, then the mercy and love of God offers us forgiveness and restoration. Through this love and mercy, we once again can walk in faithful obedience with the Lord our God. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Distance

Reading: Isaiah 64: 5-9

Verse Five: “We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

There are times when we all feel distance from God.  Sometimes it is because we are struggling with sin in our life and this separates us for a time.  Sometimes it is our own inability to move past the guilt or shame that comes from our sin.  We stew init a bit.  We feel unworthy of God’s forgiveness so we do not ask for it.  And some of the time we want to be near God but it just feels as if He were absent or very distant.  We can cause the distance some of the time, but once in a while it is not rooted in us.  It just feels like there is some distance between us and God.

In our writing from Isaiah, there is some distance or separation that the people are feeling.  Verse five opens with a truth: “You come to the help of those that gladly do right”.  This verse may be wishful thinking or it may be a call to get back to doing what is right so that God can again feel present.  As verses five through seven unfold, we see that sin has definitely been a part of the separation.  Isaiah also admits that “no one calls on the name” of God and that no one “strives” to get a hold of God.  There is a complacency also at work here.  despite it primarily being their sins that separate them from God, the people still want to blame God.  Their logic makes no sense.  God cannot be more present.  God’s mercy and grace are always available and at work in our lives.  God never hides from His children.  They are playing the “if only you were here” game with a God who is always there.

The tide begins to turn in verse eight.  Isaiah writes, “We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  He is reminding the people that they are indeed in God’s hands and that, even in the midst of feeling like there is separation, God is still at work.  Even in the trials, God is shaping us too.  Verse nine closes with a plea: “Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people”.  God has, is, and always will be looking upon His people.  It is a reminder to themselves as much as it is a request of God.  At times we too must confess our need for God.

When we feel separation, we must find the root.  If it is sin that separates us from God, may we cast that aside,  repent, and seek God’s forgiveness.  If it is just a feeling, may we seek God with all that we are.  When we seek Him, we will find Him.  Delve into the Word.  Go out and be the hands and feet.  Spend time in fervent prayer.  Lift your voice in praise.  God is present.  We will find Him when we seek Him.  Amen.


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Reconnect to God

Reading: Psalm 42

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by problems relating to money, health, relationships, and vocation.  When a couple of these worries pair up, which they often do, then our lives can be quite challenging.  Our habit tends to be to dwell on such things, to allow them to consume our lives.  The cloudiness that settles in can even affect our relationship with God.

Sometimes we become so centered on our problems that we forget God is available as a source of strength and relief.  Our troubles can consume us.  When we finally are reminded of His presence we wonder why we did not turn to Him sooner.  At other times we are like the psalmist.  We seek God but end up asking, “Where is God”?  Despite our efforts, God feels distant.  The cloudiness can be hard to shake.

In these cases, we need to practice the motions of faith that we know so well.  First, we need to pray.  We need to pray out to God even if we feel all alone.  God is near and He is listening.  If we pray faithfully, He will be present.  Second, we need to praise God.  If we are too downcast to find any current praises, turn back to times and ways in which God has blessed you before.  Also, we can be thankful for the littlest things.  Song is another way to pray and to praise God.

In both of these ways we will reconnect to our God, our help and our rock.  In prayer and praise we invite God’s presence to be real to us and to also offer ourselves back to Him.  May we place our hope in God, for He is ever faithful and His love never fails.