pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Be the Light

Reading: Isaiah 9: 2-7

Verse 2: “On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned”.

Our passage today from Isaiah 9 is a good place to start Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is a wonderful day of worship and celebration and anticipation and joy and hope and love. Tonight we worship the birth of Jesus Christ!

Isaiah 9 is a good place to start today though. The prophet announces that “on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned”. Jesus is the light and there is much reason to celebrate the light. But read again these first few words: “on those living in the land of the shadow”. Other translations render this a “land of darkness”. This too is a reality as we sit on the edge of the coming of the light.

Many people today live in the shadow or in the darkness. They’re nice enough folks, but they do not know the light. For some, their hearts are hard and they love the darkness. For some, circumstances have led them into the darkness – addictions, upbringing, poverty… And for some, they simply have never heard the good news that the light of the world brings. It is to all of these that we are called.

As the children of God, we are called to the hardened, to the sinners, to the lost and broken, to the outsiders. We are called to carry the light to them. We are called to go out and to enter the darkness, allowing the light of Christ in us to penetrate the hearts of those living outside of Jesus Christ and His love. May we be the light today so that all will know the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Be the light today!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be the light today and every day! Amen.


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Through the and In the

Reading: Psalm 23: 4-6

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

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” is a very familiar line in a very familiar Psalm.  This line contains several truths for all of us.  First, we will all, at points in our lives, walk through a time of loss.  The death may be of a friend or loved one, it may be of a marriage or a friendship, it may be of a job.  In the times of loss, we all feel a shadow hanging over us.  The grief, the pain, the unwanted change all feels like a shadow or dark cloud hanging over us.

Second, we do not walk alone as we pass through the valley.  Our God walks with us.  Because of His great love for us, God does not let us walk alone.  His presence and the people He leads into our lives during these valley experiences are what makes it possible to “walk through”.  Yes, we do spend time in the valley and, yes, we will return there from time to time, but we do not remain in the valley.  God fosters new life to spring up or to form in us as we walk through the valley and continue on our journey of faith.  This is the third truth.  God leads us up and out of the valley, back into new life.  When we look back, we can see how God was with us in our deepest need and how God led us through the valley.  Because of these reminders of God’s love and because of the experience with His closeness, we can join the psalmist in declaring, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

The Psalm ends where it began – with God’s blessings and joy in our lives.  God prepares a table for us, God anoints us with the oil of His blessing, and through this our cup overflows.  Outside of the valleys we also live daily with the sense of God’s goodness and love surrounding us each moment of each day.  It is the same sense of comfort and presence, but it is experienced in the joy of life as well.  The Psalm ends with the hope we all profess: “… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.  May it be so.  May it be so!


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Never Lets Go

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse four reads, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.”  In my mind this triggers a song that uses this line.  The song refers to God’s perfect love casting out fear.  The pre-chorus begins with “And I will fear no evil” and goes on with, ‘because my God is with me’ then poses the question” ‘whom then shall I fear?’

In life we certainly have times when we do walk in the shadow of death.  The ‘death’ may be a physical loss of a dear friend or loved one, but it can also include the loss of a friendship or the end of a job, the end of a marriage or moving to a new town.  Some of these losses are new beginnings in life so there is joy as well, but we must also acknowledge the sadness of what is no more.

In Psalm 23 we get a palpable sense of loss for David.  We also get a real sense of his confidence that God will always be there.  David has experienced his share of dark times and has learned that God continues to remain present through these times as well.

This is something we tend to learn the hard way.  We tend to be individualistic and to try and do things on our own.  Too often we turn to God only when all of our own efforts have failed.  But as we do this over and over, we come to realize our need for God sooner and sooner and we turn to Him quicker and quicker.  We come to learn what David learned: God is always there.

The chorus to the song rings out, ‘Oh no, you never let go; in every high and every low; oh no, you never let go; Lord, you never let go of me.’  In every high and especially in every low, may we always remember that God never lets go of us.  May we cling to Him, for He is always present, always seeking to hold us close.