pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faithful

Reading: 1 Samuel 2: 1-8

Verse 2: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no one like our God”.

Today we hear Hannah’s response to having a son. Years of suffering are over as she gives birth to Samuel. Hannah then raised Samuel until he was weaned and then she kept her promise to God. She gives Samuel to Eli, dedicating Samuel’s life to the Lord. Then, in grateful response to God, she offers up the prayer that we find today in our passage.

The prayer begins with Hannah rejoicing in the Lord because “in the Lord my horn is lifted high”. She has found strength in God and delights in the deliverance that she has found. She is no longer barren. She is no longer on the outside looking in. She has given Elkanah a son.

Hannah now knows joy instead of sorrow. She knows that God has been with her throughout. Yes, she spent years in shame but she was not alone. Yes, she spent year after year praying for a son that just never came, but in the end God was faithful. In verse 2 she rejoices: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no one like our God”. Only God could answer her prayer, only God could give her a son. Yes, there is no one like our God.

A verse later Hannah prays, “The Lord is a God who knows, and by Him deeds are weighed”. Hannah kept her focus on God and on living well. She did not stoop to the provocation by Peninnah. She remained confident in God. God heard her cry for a son and He blessed her with Samuel. We too can rejoice with God when we are faithful, when we walk the narrow path of Jesus Christ. May we trust as Hannah trusted, day by day, walking faithfully so that we too can rejoice in our God, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for Hannah’s witness of steadfast faith and perseverance with you. Thank you for your faithfulness to her and to me. Praise God! Amen.

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Deliverer and Redeemer

Reading: Psalm 34: 1-8 & 19-22

Verse 19: “A righteous man may have troubles, but the Lord delivers him from all of them”.

Today’s Psalm ties in well with the readings from Job that came to us the last two days. Verse one today’s begins with, “I will extol the Lord at all times”. The psalmist wants to continually praise the Lord and goes on to invite the afflicted to join him in this pursuit. Even on our bad days, the psalmist invites us to praise God.

Verse 4 continues with the ‘why’ we are to ever praise God: “I sought the Lord and He answered me”. God answers the faithful. Initially, we may not be aware of the answer, but we are always answered with God’s presence. This was the story with Job. Through both the psalmist’s testimony and through Job’s experience, we can trust that God will be with us too. Yes, trouble will find us at times, but we are encouraged to continue to praise the Lord.

When we continually praise the Lord we are ever reminded of God’s presence in our lives – in both the times of joy and in the times of sorrow. Both the good and the bad shape who we are, but the difficult times also remind us of our need for and dependence on God, helping us to be humble and to be aware of our own weakness. Our praise can be both for God’s power and might and also for the strength that He brings us in our weakness.

Verse 19 reminds us, “A righteous man may have troubles, but the Lord delivers him from all of them”. How true it is that we will all have our share of trials in this life! But even truer is God’s promise of presence and deliverance. The Psalm concludes with one more assurance: “The Lord redeems His servants”. Praise be to the Lord our God, our deliverer and our redeemer!

Lord of all time and place, thank you for being with me all the time, no matter my circumstances. You are with me in the good, in the bad, and everywhere in between. May I ever sing your praises with my words, my actions, and my thoughts, always bringing you the glory. Amen.


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Always Near

Reading: Job 42: 10-17

Verse 12: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first”.

Job’s trial has transformed him. He looks at life much differently than before. Job values life itself, all the small things, and everything in between. As his suffering began, Job acknowledged that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. It was matter of fact, simply how things were. But now Job has gratitude for all that the Lord does in his life. He is now personally connected to God.

We see the change in Job first as he prays for his friends. We recall that the three friends were not supportive or encouraging during the trial. Yet Job prays for them. For what? Probably to experience what he has experienced. The friends know God’s laws and rules, but they do not know God. Their interactions with Job show a lack of God’s love, compassion, and mercy. The second way we see Job transformed is in his interactions with his daughters.

Job gives each daughter a name that reflects God’s beauty in the world. Their names recall God’s grace and the blessings that He pours out on mankind. Job reflects this by also giving his daughters a share of the inheritance. In doing so, Job is making them equal to his sons. He is also giving them power and independence. Job’s daughters do not have to rely on others.

Job’s story is familiar to us. We have experienced pain and suffering in our lives. We have emerged closer to God. Yes, at times we too can doubt God and/or be angry at God. Often, like Job, we realize that we cannot nor ever will understand some of the ways of God. And like Job, we also experience God’s abiding presence, especially in the trials. Always, God is near. Thanks be to God.

God, you are the Creator of all things. Your power and might are far beyond my understanding. Your ways are far above my ways. Yet you are ever present, your love and care always surrounding me. You are ever present, both in the joys and in the sorrows. Thank you God for always being there. Amen.


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Destination God

Reading: Psalm 84: 1-7

Verse 5: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage”.

Today’s Psalm has familiar words to music lovers young and old. The opening verse and bridge to the contemporary worship song, “Better In One Day”, spring from verses one and two. A great old hymn also comes to mind as one reads this Psalm. “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has its roots in Psalm 84. Both of these songs echo the psalmist’s key themes: we are blessed both when we are with God and when we are on the pilgrimage to be with God.

The original purpose of Psalm 84 would have been to encourage pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. They would have sung it as they traveled. The opening lines remind them of the goal – the temple. They would also be reminded of the ‘why’ behind the journey – to be in God’s presence. Verse two expresses this desire well: the soul yearns and the heart and flesh cry out. For those who have arrived, for those “who dwell in your house”, they are filled with praises for God. This joyous end of the journey would be much anticipated by the pilgrims.

The next stanza, verses five through seven, addresses the realities of life for some of the pilgrims. Verse five reads, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage”. This blessing is also ours. Once we decide to set our course with God, we too gain strength and encouragement for the journey. Once we profess our desire to walk with God, then we too are blessed. But the journey is not always joyous, not always easy. In the earliest texts of Psalm 84 the journey would have passed not through the valley of Baca but through the “valley of sorrows”. It was a dry place where the pilgrim’s tears would “make it a place of springs”. God’s presence would have been the “autumn rains” that filled them with blessings and joy. Even in sorrow, God is present. As these pilgrims journey on towards their destination, they know God’s presence as they “go from strength to strength” as they continue towards God’s dwelling place.

Whether we are like the sparrow that has found a home or if we are a pilgrim on the journey or if we now find ourselves passing through the valley, we know the same destination. This day and every day may we yearn for and cry out for God, ever seeking to dwell in God’s presence, drawing strength upon strength from the Lord our God. How lovely it is to dwell with the Lord!


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Saying “Yes”

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse Two: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”.

In some ways, Paul’s view of ministry differs from ours today. He lists a handful of things that are commendable: trouble, hardship, distress, imprisonment, sleepless nights, hunger. While we are sometimes willing to endure these things for our faith, we do not often intentionally put ourselves out there to experience these things. Yet many people do endure these things. Today we journey home from a mission trip where we met lots of folks who experience these things on a daily basis.

Paul also gives us another list. He offers commendation for purity, patience, kindness, love, and truthful speech. These are characteristics that we all want to possess and share with others. These are the traits that we want to be known for. Yet, as Paul also acknowledges, we most often find ourselves between these two lists.

Paul shares that we usually find ourselves between bad and good reports, between being seen as genuine and as imposters, between dying and living, as sorrowful yet rejoicing, and as having nothing yet possessing everything. We often did find ourselves in the middle, tending towards one end or the other. We seek to be living for God, yet when we are honest, we spend a lot of time pursuing what we want and desire. It is a battle.

In verse two Paul writes, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. The key word is ‘now’. It is an important word. On our mission trips we usually end up centering on a phrase or expression that seems to encapsulate the trip. This year what became our central thought was saying “yes” to those opportunities that God gives us, to answer when He calls. Many of our youth and adults had opportunity to do so this week. Great blessings were poured out from heaven upon both us and those we worked with because of the yeses.

The time is now. Today God wants to bless you with His favor. Today God wants you to experience His salvation. Today and each day may we ever be open to the opportunity that God provides – whether in hardship or joy, whether in sorrow or kindness. May we too be willing to say yes to God. Amen.


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Walking Daily

Reading: Psalm 4:8

Verse Eight: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety”.

The Psalms are full of emotion. They range from deep and sorrowful laments to joyous songs of praise. In short, they cover the whole range of human emotion and represent well the ups and downs that life inevitably brings. Because life is such, it is hard to always do as today’s verse suggests.

What does it take to lie down each day to sleep in peace? How could we do this each day, no matter what life brings our way? I think if the deep and painful moments that come with the sudden loss of a loved one or the unexpected news of unemployment and wonder how this is always possible. The answer to these questions lies in what we do day in and day out. If our spiritual disciplines are daily and consistent, then we build a great relationship with God that allows us to live out this verse even when our hearts are filled with great hurt and deep sorrow. When our relationship with God is rock solid, then He will always be our solid rock.

On a Tuesday morning just over two years ago I was informed that my job was being eliminated. After being a part of that organization for 23 years, it felt like the end of the world. I prayed a lot that day and spent a lot of time in conversation with God. He was not a stranger but a dear friend. By the end of the day I had found peace. Yes, there were still more questions than answers, but I was able to lie down and sleep in peace because I knew that God was in control, that He loved me, and that He would lead the way.

His presence gave me the strength I needed and allowed me to trust in His plans. This came through years of walking daily with God. I had established a deep personal relationship that made me into someone who knew God would see me through. Yes, it was a difficult process and there were hard days yet ahead, but in all of them God was with me. May this be your relationship with God as well. May you walk daily, through the good and the bad, fully connected to the Lord our God.


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Thanksgiving

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse Four: “Give thanks to Him and praise His name”.

As we begin the day, the psalmist encourages us to “Give thanks to Him and praise His name”.  It is very appropriate for Thanksgiving Day.  This is the day when we will gather around the table and list off all of the things we are thankful for: family, friends, home, employment, time off, the food!  And in the midst of the holiday, let us not forget to be thankful for our God.

People will come into this day of thanks with a wide range of emotions and from different places in their lives.  Most will come into the day with the joy and praise called for by the psalmist.  But for some, this will be their first big holiday or their first thanksgiving without someone special.  May we be sensitive to and extra loving of them if this is the case.  Others will come to the gathering with different struggles or sorrows or burdens.  To each of these may we offer kindness and understanding and acceptance along with our love and welcome.

Maybe this is how we enter Thanksgiving today.  Then these words that open the Psalm are harder to live out.  we think: joyful songs when I feel this way?  Shouts of praise as I am going through this?  If so, perhaps just verse five matters today: “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness endured through all generations”.  Sometimes we must just cling to God’s love and His faithfulness.  Sometimes we must lean into God and His presence and know that it is enough.  As we turn to God in our need, He will surround us with His love.  And in time we will be grateful for this and we will thank Him for His love.

May our day today be filled with God, family, and  friends and with wonderful food and a joyous time of fellowship!  Amen!