pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Bow, Kneel

Reading: Psalm 95

Today’s Psalm is an encompassing passage.  It reminds us both of God’s gifts to us and of God’s power as well as reminding us of our human state – bowing to worship God at one moment, testing God at another.  The cycle of obedience and disobedience is common to the Israelites and it is common to us.

When the chosen people are being faithful and obedient, regular worship is at the core of their daily life.  They often walked in a close relationship with God.  God was their Rock and they came to offer their thanksgiving.  The people extolled God for creation and for the blessings in their lives.  In this place, they felt they were “the flock under his care”.  I feel the same way when my walk with God is faithful and obedient.  When I am daily in the Word and when I am praying prayers that offer my repentance and thanks and that seek God’s will for my life, then I too feel God’s love and care surrounding me.  When I am here, you’d think I’d stay forever.

Sheep tend to wander so they are a good choice.  In the Psalm, the author refers to one of the many, many times that the Israelites tested God, one of the many times they were not obedient and faithful.  This too is my pattern.  Although living within God’s presence and protection is where the Israelites wanted to be and where I want to be, sin creeps in.  We find ourselves testing and trying God.  As Paul wrote in Romans 7:15, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”.  The power of the flesh is strong.  It is a daily, and often hourly or minute by minute, battle to be obedient and faithful.  It is a battle that we cannot win on our own.  It is a battle that never ends.

Thanks be to God that He is faithful and that His love and mercy never fail.  “Come, let us bow down in worship”.  Let us confess our sins with our lips and find God’s forgiveness in our hearts.  Let us offer our praise and thanksgiving!  “Let us kneel before the Lord our maker”.  In humble submission we bow, admitting our weakness, calling on God’s strength.  We kneel before our God, grateful to be in God’s love and care, for we too are the sheep of His pasture.

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Thanks

Readings: Philippians 4: 4-9 and John 6: 25-35

Thanksgiving is an awesome day where we gather with friends and family to give thanks for all that God has blessed us with.  All that we have comes from the Lord.  This day we give thanks.

Our Israelite forefathers recognized God’s provision from day one.  Adam was grateful for God’s love and care in the garden.  His son, Abel, brought the first lamb of his flock and sacrificed it as a thank offering to God.  The Israelites continued to give thank offerings and have a festival at harvest time where they thank God for all of their blessings.  Other festivals, such as Passover, also give thanks to God for the role God has played in their history.

Our American forefathers began Thanksgiving out of gratitude for surviving in a new and wild land.  They were grateful for those who God had sent to teach them what they needed to do to survive here.  They too recognized God’s hand at work in their lives and gave thanks.

Today, as we gather with family and friends, may we too give thanks for all of the ways God brings blessings into our lives.  May we celebrate today with a grateful heart full of thanks to God our Father, the giver of all good things.


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Love, Forever

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-20

Psalm 118 is a celebration of what the Lord has done for the Israelites and of what God desires to do for all who call on the name of the Lord.  It is a song of celebration and hope.  The Israelites sang this song in worship for the same reason we sing “Amazing Grace” or “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” – to remind ourselves of God’s power and love.  The Israelites have come out of slavery in Egypt; the story of the Exodus celebrates God’s presence with them through it all.  For them and for us, the story of God’s presence is summed up well in verse one, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”.  Amen.

As readers of the Psalm today, we must claim the same promises and the hope found in this Psalm of Praise to God.  At times, when we are in captivity to our sin or to the circumstances of life, these words speak to us as well: “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me”?  Verse six reminds us that ‘here’ is temporary and that God is the only one really in control.  Keeping focus on the overarching, supreme love of God can help us in our times of trial or need.

This theme is continued in verse fourteen, but in an even more significant way: “The Lord is my strength and my song: He is my salvation”.  God desires to carry us through whatever life brings.  God deserves to hear our thanksgiving and praise lifted up to the heavens in grateful song.  To be strengthened on the journey and then to sing praises for God’s hand at work in our lives is contagious.  Just as the Israelites sang to remember and to be encouraged, so should we.  And lastly, God is our salvation.  God will save us from our sins and from whatever life brings.  We are children of God, claimed by Christ forever through our proclamation of Jesus as Lord.  His love endures forever.  His love endures forever!!  His love endures FOREVER!!! Amen.


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Worship the Lord

Reading: Psalm 145: 1-5 and 17-21

Psalm 145 is a song of praise to God.  In our worship we call out to God, singing to an “audience of one”, as the saying goes.  Verse 18 reads, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth”.  As we call out in worship, we offer God our thanksgiving and praise in song.  We also call out to draw near to God, to be in God’s presence.  When we call out to God, God draws near to us.

Some years in Youth group we are blessed to have a young man or woman who can play the guitar or piano and can sing.  These gifted young people bless us by leading our times of worship.  Other years we do not have such an individual and by default I lead.  Although I do not always maintain the same tempo and play an occasional wrong chord, I can provide the guitar to lead worship.  The vocals are another story.  I cannot count how many times on of the youth singers has looked at me with the “what are you singing?” look.  I smile and we keep on going.  I wish I could sing.  But I am simply not a good singer.  So I make a joyful noise to the Lord.

God does not require our perfection.  God desires our presence in worship.  God desires that our hearts be fully present in worship.  God would much rather have our off key singing with love and passion than our reverent silence.  God does bless many with the gift of a good voice.  Accordingly, they should lead the worship of the Lord whenever possible.  And even the best is not perfect.  This matters not either.  God desires our joyful worship.  God wants us to offer all of ourselves in worship.  Each time, as we seek to draw near the Lord, may we offer our audience of one all that we are and all that we have, for it is pleasing in God’s sight when we worship the Lord.


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Upward

Reading: Luke 18: 9-14

How would you finish this line: “Thank God I a not like __”?  For the Pharisee in today’s story, the tax collector is nearby and is an easy target to compare himself with.  Everybody looks down on the tax collectors!  But on another day it could be a struggling widow or the town beggar.  When one steps outside the temple the possibilities of how one could finish that line grows quickly: Gentile, Samaritan, prostitute, slave, foreigner, Roman…

For the Pharisee, he finds great comfort in who he is, or at least in how he appears to others.  He is, of course, playing a game that we are quite good at too.  By comparing himself to another who is an ‘obvious’ target in society, he is elevating himself.  But it is shallow and self-centered.  It is also far from pleasing to and honoring of God.

So, how would we finish that line?  Who in our communities would go on that line?  Our answers could be political, ethnic, racial, socio-economic, emotional, moral, or simply learned.  Our answers could be intimate friends, family members, co-workers, fellow pew mates, neighbors, and strangers.  We find no shortage of others we could compare ourselves to.  We are also quick to look away from those to whom we do not compare to favorably.  The game can cut both ways.

For the Pharisee, and all too often for most of us, the focus is not on God and the many things we should be grateful for.  Our focus is too easily inward and not upward.  May we be grateful for who we each are in God and for the unique gifts and talents we all possess.  May we offer praise and thanksgiving for the many blessings we have.  May empathy and compassion be what fills our eyes, minds, and hearts.  May generosity and humility guide our response to those God places in our lives.  May our gaze be ever upward.


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Remember and Recognize

Reading: Psalm 66: 1-12

Like the psalmist, there are times in our lives where God is present, when God acts on our behalf.  To recall these times is an essential practice of our faith.  When the Israelites remember how God turned away their enemies or when God led them through the sea or when God brought them into the promised land, they are reminding themselves of God’s love for them and, in turn, of their love for God.  This leads them to worship and praise God.

God is also active and present in our lives.  We too have experiences that we can identify and note as moments when God was especially near or when God acted in our lives.  These times are moments in our lives that we too must occasionally remember and be in the moment for doing so connects us to God as well.  Whether we record these moments in a journal or mentally store them does not matter.  What is important is that we periodically review when God walked with us in a time of need, when God carried us through a crisis, or when God blessed us with a child or job or healing or …  When we do this we are reminded, just as the Israelites were each time they sang a Psalm, of God’s love for us and of our live for God.  It keeps our connection to God strong when we regularly offer our praise and thanksgiving.

In regularly recognizing God’s presence and activity in our lives, we are also made aware of God’s presence in smaller things.  We sense God in the sunrise or in the beautiful song of the bird.  We see God in the grateful face of one we stop to help or talk to.  Soon we are thanking God and praising God for all of the blessings we have in our lives.  This day may we be attuned to God’s presence in our lives and may we offer many grateful responses.


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Thanks

Reading: Psalm 50: 1-8 & 22-23

God’s voice booms out in this passage.  It opens with, “The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks”.  One can hear the thunder in God’s voice.  Rightly so, God sounds like an angry parent.  God summons the people Israel to hear what needs to be said.  God reminds them of their covenant and that God is their judge.  In the verses not read from the Psalm, God lays out both why they should offer just thank offerings and also a list of the sins they are committing.  As we pick up in verse 22, God reminds ‘you who forget God’ the consequences and benefits of following God faithfully.

We live in a time where blood sacrifices of animals arr no longer made nor are they necessary.  Christ’s sacrifice on the cross covers all of our sins.  Yet God still desires our sacrifices.  In our passage God calls for thank offerings.  These are what God desires of us as well.  A thank offering expresses our gratitude to God for all we have been blessed with.  This can run the gamut from our tithe that we lay on the altar to the time we give to mentor one new to the faith.  It can be the time we give to teach a class and it can be the time we set aside each day to specifically and gratefully thank God for the specific blessings of each day.

This idea goes beyond simply saying ‘Thank You’ to God for the good things in our life.  Our thanksgiving also keeps us humble by recognizing God’s hand in all of our blessings.  It takes the focus off of us and how good we are.  We are also made more aware of God’s vast love, mercy, grace, … and this lessens the load that we feel we have to carry.  It relieves us of some of our fears and anxieties as we come to trust more in God’s provision, power, and presence in our lives.  We come to know God is in control.

Today may we take some time to thank God for the many ways we are blessed by and experience the divine hand at work in our lives.  May we express our gratitude through our selfless offering of our time, gifts, talents, resources, service, and witness.  And may we welcome the presence and peace of God into our lives.