pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.


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Amazing Love

Reading: 2 Samuel 18: 31-33

Verse 33: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! If only I had died instead of you”!

David experiences something no parent ever expects to experience. One of his children dies before he does. No one wants to bury a child. It just seems unnatural. For David, this is the second son he has lost. The first son who died, Ammon, was murdered by Absalom. Ammon had raped his half-sister, Absalom’s sister. David did not punish Ammon for the rape so Absalom took matters into his own hands, avenging his sister’s shame. This act also went unpunished by David. So it was not a total shock that the fiery and arrogant Absalom was leading a rebellion against his father, King David.

Even then David’s first reaction when it comes down to a fight is to try and protect Absalom. David’s army gains a hard-fought victory. It is a costly battle – over 20,000 die that day in the forest of Ephraim. News comes first of the great victory. The messenger is elated to share the news that the Lord has delivered all who rose up against the king. David cares not but only asks about Absalom. The messenger replies, “May the enemies… all be like that young man”, letting David know that Absalom was killed. The Word then says, “The King was shaken”. David went to mourn this personal loss, crying out, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! If only I had died instead of you”! The victory on the battlefield is meaningless to David because Absalom died. Like all parents, David wishes he could trade places with his child.

The love of a parent for a child is on vivid display here. The pure love models the love that God has for each of us. Yet it is pale by comparison. God sent His own Son to die for others. God sent Jesus knowing that Jesus would endure the cross to bring forgiveness of sins and hope for eternal life. God incarnate, God in the flesh, sacrificed Himself for the sinners. That death had to pain God the Father deeply. But the greater love for you and me prevailed. As a parent, this would be so hard to do – especially when He had the power to stop it. The atonement, the sacrifice, had to be made. It is an amazing love revealed in God the Father. Thanks be to God for the amazing love for all of His children, imperfect as we may be. Thanks be to God.


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Loving the Child

Reading: 2 Samuel 18: 5-9

Verse 5: “The king commanded, ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake'”.

David’s son Absalom has led a revolt to become king by force. He is a ruthless man who formed an alliance that has led to a civil war against his father and his supporters. The troops prepare for battle. As they are heading out, David says to his leaders and the army as a whole, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake”. After all, Absalom is still his son.

One could certainly argue that David’s refusal to deal with his sinful children had led to this very moment. His children have gone unpunished for a long time. Rebellion and disobedience go hand in hand with how they have been raised. Yet still overriding all of this is a father’s love for his child. This may not seem to make sense, but neither does God’s love for us.

When I think about how often I sin against God’s ways and allow pride or jealousy or gossip or … to creep in, then I am amazed that God still loves me. God’s love is a love for us that just keeps coming, no matter how many times I say I’m sorry and repent of whatever I’ve fallen into. Maybe this is the love that David is trying to model with Absalom. Maybe David is hoping that he has finally learned. If not, like God, David will still love his child.

Our passage ends with Absalom stuck in a tree. This will be his end. But when we are stuck in our sin, it is not the end. God comes along and gently sets us down on the ground. We took the ground as we offer up our apology. God dusts off our sin and sends us back on our way through life. He smiles lovingly as we head off to try again. He says, “See you soon”. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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No Sin Too Great

Reading: 2 Samuel 12: 7b-13

Verse 9: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes”?

David has just heard Nathan say, “You are the man”! In our passage today, God begins by telling David this same thing but from a much different perspective. God reviews how David was anointed and protected, how he was given the houses of Israel and Judah. God closes this summary of how He has led and blessed David with these words: “And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”. The unspoken line is, ‘All you had to do was ask’.

God’s intent was to bless David. I believe that is God’s intent with us too. We probably will not be made kings or be given large mansions to live in. The blessings are not necessarily financial. Yet I believe that God does bless the faithful. At a minimum, there is a joy and peace about life, a contentment that assures us, and a hope for all to come. Like David, even when we find ourselves in this good place with God, we still fight the urge for more or for some earthly thing. With the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can usually withstand the temptation. But sometimes we cannot. Like David, sometimes we sin.

In our passage, David’s sins have consequences. Yes, God forgives him but there will be ramifications. God asks, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes”? It is again a way of asking why David didn’t just come to God in the first place. But because David lusted after another man’s wife and used the sword, these two sins will rear their ugly heads against David from within his own family. Unlike David’s though, this rebellion will be out in the open, for all to see. It will be public and it will be brutal.

Our sins also bring consequences. These are usually not of the type that David faced, but they can be. At the very least, our sins disrupt our relationship with God. The same can happen with other people that are affected by our sin. And our sins also affect us too. Our hope is that when we utter, “I have sinned against God”, we too repent and repair whatever damage we can. Out of His great love, God forgives and restores us too. No sin is too great to forever separate us from God’s love. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Undignified

Reading: 2 Samuel 6: 12b-19

Verse Fourteen: “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might”.

Today’s passage gives us two sides of worship. On the one hand we see some rituals being practiced. On the other hand we see unabashed and heart-led worship. Both “styles” or forms still have a vital place in our worship of God.

David uses rituals to worship God in several ways. After six steps are taken, David stops the procession. The priests and Levites sit down the ark and a sacrifice is offered as a thanks to God. The calf and bull are a way of thanking God for blessing them with the ark and its return to Jerusalem. The procession also ends with the proper sacrifices. David’s choice of attire is also ritualistic. The linen ephod is a religious garment. David chose to take off his royal robes and to don a garment worn in service to the Lord. In this choice he is telling all that he too will serve and honor God. The ceremony ends with blessings. David blesses the people in God’s name and also blesses them with gifts of food. Although our rituals might be different, we too have our worship traditions and practices. Our sacraments, liturgies, creeds, and other traditions help us to worship God.

David and the people also spontaneously worship God from the heart. “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might”. He worships with reckless abandon before God. He worships with all his might. In our churches we might clap during a praise song. We might raise our hands toward heaven. In some churches we still dance before the Lord. As David dances with all his might, the people celebrate and worship with shouts and trumpets and other forms of music. There is joy in their worship. We too use music in our worship and maybe even lift up an unscripted shout or “Amen” once in a while too.

This passage always reminds me of a song. It is called “Undignified” and the verse simply reads, “I will dance, I will sing, to be mad for my King. Nothing Lord is hindering this passion in my soul”. This song is a good reminder that we should not allow anything to inhibit our worship of God. The chorus shouts, “And I will become even more undignified than this. Some may say it’s foolishness, but I’ll become even more undignified than this. Lay my pride by my side, and I’ll become even more undignified than this”. Today, Lord, may we lay aside our pride and unashamedly live out our gospel faith, worshipping you fully in all we do and say today. Amen.


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Creation

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34 & 35b

Verse 24: “How many are your works, O Lord! In your wisdom you made them all”.

Here in south central South Dakota it looks a little gloomy this morning. It is overcast and breezy and a little cool. Outside my window I can hear the chorus of many birds filling the morning air. Along the front and side of the house flowers are blooming, bursting forth with color. The leaves on the trees are vibrant colors of green and the lush grass sways rhythmically in the gentle breeze. The world outside testifies to today’s opening verse: “How many are your works, O Lord! In your wisdom you made them all”. Thanks be to God!

If one steps outside my little corner of the world, the diversity of God’s creation grows exponentially. God’s creativity and wisdom brought us thousands of kinds of birds and thousands of kinds of fish and animals and trees and crops and flowers and… and… and… God designed a world that nourishes itself with rains and floods and cleanses itself with fires. He created the seasons not just to bring us variety but also to guide patterns of life. Our world is really an amazing place, all under God’s loving care. As verse 30 says, “You send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth”.

As creatures if this creation, as stewards, we play a role in helping to love our earth and all its creatures. Verse 31 reads, “May the glory of the Lord endure forever”. May it indeed! To this end, may we each play our role well, caring for all that God has blessed us with this day. May our praises to God give thanks for this gift of life all around us and may we rejoice in God’s creation today!


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The Spirit Prays

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”.

Prayer is our personal, frequent conversation with God. On most days we lift up our thanks, our joys, our concerns, and our requests to God. We have a real sense that supports what we read in the Bible – that God hears our prayers and desires for us to come to Him in prayer. Prayer is an intimate connection to God.

On occasion we also have seasons or days or moments where either we cannot pray or do not know what to pray for. At times in my life I have felt so hurt or have been so angry at God that I couldn’t quite form a prayer. The emotions were just too great. At other times I have been distant from God and did not even think about praying very often. Sometimes I’ve felt so lost that I could not even begin to formulate words for a prayer. The whirlwind around me made it difficult to lift up a prayer.

In all of these scenarios, even though I could not or did not pray, I still had a sense of God and His presence. I think this is like the inward groanings that Paul writes about in today’s passage. It is this guy level feeling or instinct to reach out to God. A part of us longs to connect with God, but we just can’t quite do it. But, thanks be to God, we are not alone.

In verse 26 we read, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In all the scenarios above, plus any other we can think of or experience, the Spirit helps us. Paul goes on to write, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”. In groans without words the Spirit prays for you and I. When we are angry, the Spirit prays for us. When we are hurting, the Spirit prays for us. When we wander away or when we fall into sin, the Spirit prays for us. The Spirit prays for us. All the time. Thanks be to God. Amen!