pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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When I Fear…

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 1-9a

Verse 3: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”.

Elijah is threatened by Jezebel, the queen of Israel. He has angered her and she pledges to take his life. Like most of us would do, he assesses the situation and immediately flees. Elijah flees out into the desert and tells God that he has had enough. He just wants to die. Elijah fears dying at Jezebel’s hand, but out in the quiet and peacefulness of the desert would be just fine.

I have a hard time relating to all of Elijah’s decisions. If I were in such a position, threatened by someone powerful, I would flee too. I probably would. But my next thoughts would turn to resolving the issue or doing something about it. I feel like there is a lot of productive life ahead of me. Elijah feels old and tired at this point. Maybe in 30 or 40 years this will be my response too.

When I consider Elijah’s story to this point though, I realize that he has seen the power of God over and over and over. He has just finished seeing God defeat 950 prophets of Baal and of Asherah in a sacrifice showdown. Slaughtering all of these prophets is what draws Jezebel’s threat. In spite of his history with God, Elijah reacts with fear. We read, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”. If anyone should trust God, it’s Elijah. Yet he fears and flees. Instead of turning to God, he fears and flees. Instead of calling on the power that he has seen demonstrated over and over and over, he fears and flees. How like Elijah I am.

What is God’s response when Elijah fears and flees instead of turning and trusting? God meets Elijah where he is at – right in the middle of his very real human emotions. God provides food and water and rest. God gives Elijah what he needs. God does not condemn or judge or scold him. Elijah is accepted as he is and is strengthened for the journey ahead.

What is God’s response when I fear and flee? It is the same. God loves me and cares for me, encouraging me for the journey ahead. May you allow God to do the same for you.

Prayer: Providing God, you never give up on me. In spite if my human weakness and emotions, you pursue me, you find me, you sustain and encourage me. Thank you God. Amen.

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Repent

Reading: Luke 13: 1-9

Verse 3: “Unless you repent, you too all will perish”.

Today’s passage begins with two tragedies. In the first Pilate has killed some folks who were making sacrifices. Jesus asks if they were worse sinners than others because of this tragedy. No! He then recalls the 18 who died when a tower collapsed. He again asks if they were more guilty than others. Again the answer is “no”. In life there are terrible things that happen. But God does not single out the worst sinners or any sinners or those sinning at that moment to experience these bad things. Pilate’s cruel decision and the structural weakness of the tower are things that happened and unfortunately affected people. The folks affected were innocent victims, not sinners forced into those situations by God.

In response to both tragedies, Jesus says the same thing. Twice He says, “Unless you repent, you too all will perish”. He is not saying that Pilate is about to rage violently or that another tower is about to fall. He is not saying that some sinners will find themselves in those situations. Jesus is saying that we are all sinners. We are all sinners who need to repent of our sins and to be made right with God. If any one of us fails to repent, we will perish. Jesus is not talking about perishing immediately. If I sin today and do not confess by the end of the day, then it does not mean that I will die tonight. Jesus goes on to share a parable about this in verses 6-9, but that is for tomorrow.

Repentance is not just saying “sorry”. It also involves a change and an effort to not commit that sin again. For me to tell at a child of mine, then to repent, then to turn around and yell at them again is not true repentance. To truly repent means to turn away from the sin and to work to not go there again and to be align oneself with God. A hollow apology with no intent to be more holy is not what is required of us.

We are all sinners. We will all sin multiple times today. Most often my sins occur in my head. My thoughts can turn to judging or condemning or comparing all too quickly. The old stereotypes or prejudices or experiences can creep in to influence my interactions with or my compassion for others. When I stumble and fall into one of these sinful behaviors, fortunately the Holy Spirit is quick to convict me. At that very point I must humble myself and confess my sin to God. I must commit to try to not turn to that sin again. I must try and take on the heart and eyes of Jesus to see that person or that situation as Jesus does. I must see with eyes of love. With those eyes I do not become sinless, I just sin less. The closer we can be to Jesus, the further we are from sinning. May we all strive to be closer to Jesus today.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, strengthen me today. When temptation comes knocking, may your Holy Spirit intervene quickly. Guard my heart and mind today, O God. Amen.


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Turn to God

Reading: Psalm 63: 6-8

Verse 6: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night”.

In his time out in the desert David appears to have some trouble sleeping. Verses 9 and 10 indicate that David is out in the desert because his enemies are pursuing him. Maybe this Psalm is written when King Saul was hunting him down or maybe it is later, perhaps when Absalom was leading a rebellion. Both were times when David fled into the desert or wilderness to find refuge. While none of us have probably fled because someone was trying to kill us, most of us have experienced trouble sleeping because of some trial or hardship or difficulty.

When I have had trouble sleeping, I have tried all sorts of remedies. I have tried, of course, counting sheep. I have read a book or played a game on my phone. I have tried listening to music. I have gone for a walk. In those times when a stressful decision lies ahead or when something else big is on my mind, I can turn to worry or fretting or… Today’s Psalm is a good reminder to me of what my first option should be: prayer. David writes to God, saying, “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night”. David turns his thoughts to God. We do not know if he turned over his worry or if he sought God’s guidance or if he simply admitted his need for God’s help. But we do know that he went to God first in his time of need. It is a good reminder to us to seek God first and not as a last resort.

Because his trust is in God, David can rejoice. In the next two verses we read of how David sings to God and of how he feels upheld by God. When we turn to God we too will experience God as our help. Like David, this leads us to rejoice in the ways that God is and has been present in our lives. In future times of trial and distress we will more quickly turn to God as time after time we learn that God upholds us too. Our soul learns to first turn to and to cling to God in our times of need. God’s faithfulness and love and care build our trust in God.

On those nights when sleep evades us, may we turn to God first. If we cannot name the fear or worry or… to offer up a prayer, we can turn to the Bible to draw near to God. If we can name it, may we give it to God and trust that God will be present and will be our help.

Prayer: Lord, when the storms rage or when the attacks of fear or doubt or worry come, be my refuge. Draw me first to you. Remind me of David and his example that you would be my shelter in the shadows. Thank you God! Amen.


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Trust in God

Reading: Genesis 15: 1-12 & 17-18

Verse 18: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram”.

Abram has led a pretty good life. Yes, he has left the place he grew up and headed off to an unknown land, having some times of testing along the way. But God has clearly been with him. By his day’s standards, Abram is very well off. Most people live a very basic life – trying to grow or raise enough just to get by. Abram has large flocks and herds, lots of servants. But he is missing one key sign of God’s blessings: children. Perhaps you can relate. Life is really good overall, but you’re still missing one key thing.

For Abram it casts a shadow over all of the other blessings. Maybe that one thing in your life does that as well. Then God shows up and reiterates the promise of children for Abram – and not just a child, but many, many descendants. He is well along in years and his wife, Sarai, is far past her child-bearing years. This thing that God is saying would sound impossible to almost anyone – probably to all of us. Yet Abram believes God. He believes in a God that can do anything, even the seemingly impossible. Most of us think God can do anything, but do we really believe it deep in our hearts? That is the question.

Abram does and God takes the next step. God pledges to give them land too. Not only some children and descendants, but a land for them to live in too. What an awesome God. God seals it by partaking in a sacrifice and by making a covenant with Abram. A covenant is a “no matter what” promise. God will keep His end of the arrangement no matter what. As human beings, we enter a marriage covenant with the same intent. Marriage is our best earthly example of “I’ll love you no matter what”.

What is that one thing you long for? In spite of life being pretty good, what seems to be missing? Give your desire up to God, plead your case. Pour out your heart. Bring it to the God who really, really can do anything. Trust in God’s providence and in God’s love for you. Take it to God in prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, you are an amazing God. Lead me through these uncertain waters. Show me the way that is pleasing to you. Amen.


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Do Not Be Afraid

Reading: Genesis 15: 1-12 & 17-18

Verse 12: “Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him”.

Abram has just gotten back from rescuing Lot. The Lord appears to him and says, “Do not be afraid”. God tells Abram that He is Abram’s shield and his reward. Abram’s mind immediately goes to children. Children, often many children, were the sign of being blessed by God. If a couple did not have children, then they had displeased God or had sinned against God. Abram and Sarai were older and without children. What reward could possibly come for Abram? He was already resigned to giving his inheritance to a relative. Abram pointedly asks God, “What can you do for me since I am childless”? This is both a very honest and a practical question. It is also a question of faith.

In response God gives clarity to the promise He made in Genesis 12:2 to make Abram the father of many nations. God tells Abram, “a son coming from your own body will be your heir”. God then shows him the stars in the heavens and tells Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. Abram believes God and he is called “righteous”. God then goes on to promise Abram the land that he is now living in as a foreigner. One day all this land will belong to his descendants. Because God is God, one day all this will come to fruition. But in the moment, Abram still questions. He says to God, “How can I know…”? The emphasis is on “know”. I am old and tired and weary and living in a foreign land. How can I know that all of this will come true? Here is where it becomes a question of faith.

We find ourselves at this point too. We come to places or times in life when we feel tired and weary, maybe old too. We’ve heard and often have experienced the promises and presence of God in the trials and sufferings. As we enter that place or time again our mind asks Abram’s question: how can I know that you, God, will be with me and will get me through this?

God instructs Abram to prepare a sacrifice. He does so and then a strange thing happens. We read, “Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him”. God removes all distractions, even light, and focuses Abram in on God alone. In the intervening verses that we did not read, God foretells the time in slavery in Egypt and the return to the land. Then the sacrifice is burned and God makes a covenant with Abram, giving his descendants this land that will become the Promised Land.

As our passage opened God began with these words: “Do not be afraid”. God speaks these words to us today. The promises that follow are also ours: God is our shield and our reward. In moments and in times of weariness and doubt, when our minds question, may our hearts turn to God. Through faith may we, like Abram, turn to God and call upon God to be our shield and defender, our reward and redeemer. God is faithful. May we trust in Him alone.

Prayer: Lord, in my moments of fear and doubt and questioning, may I turn to you alone. Remind me of the time after time after time when you have kept your promises so that I may trust in you once more. Amen.


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Choose to Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a 40-day journey that focuses on self-reflection, fasting, and prayer. The 40 days comes from Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. During Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He focused on these three practices. For Him it was a season of preparation to begin His ministry. Lent is a season of preparation for us. During Lent, the 40 days do not include Sundays – they are holy days set aside for worship. At the end if Lent we arrive on April 21 at Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 58, our passage for today, focuses on fasting and the effect that it should have. To be honest, fasting has become a little-practiced spiritual discipline. Traditionally fasting was a practice that led to prayer, study, and self-reflection. It was also practiced at critical decision points. Esther’s fast in chapter 14, verses 15 and 16, comes to mind. In general terms, abstaining from food should lead one closer to God. The meal time and the periods of hunger would be spent in study and prayer and reflection, drawing one closer to God. The physical hunger reminds one of our spiritual hunger for God. During Lent, some practice a fast and focus on self-reflection, introspection, confession, and repentance. Today many churches will use Psalm 51:10 to begin Lent as ashes are placed on foreheads. It reads, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Today many people chose to fast from an item or habit. People give up chocolate or pop or TV or social media. When the desire for this arises, it leads one to prayer, study, and self-reflection. Others choose to add something during Lent – a Bible study or a daily devotional or guided prayer. The goal is the same: to draw closer to God through self-reflection and repentance. Whatever fast you choose, this remains the goal. Fasting should lead to a positive change of heart and soul. This is what Isaiah is talking about.

Verse 6 opens with this line: “Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen…”. Fasting creates the heart of God in us – a heart filled with compassion for others. A more Christ-like heart leads us to speak up against injustice and for the oppressed and to share our food and shelter and clothing with those in need. It does not allow us to turn away from our brothers and sisters in the world. This is the impact of fasting that is pleasing to God. It leads to a pure heart that loves without conditions. It leads to a steadfast heart that walks out Jesus’ love every day with every person without limits.

Fasting connects us to God. It changes us and makes us more like Him. Then our “light will break forth like the dawn” and “you will call and the Lord will answer”. When we cry out, God will say, “Here I am”. This Lenten season, may we choose to fast, to come closer to the heart of God, to better know and serve our fellow travelers in the world.

Prayer: Lord, in this holy season, may my heart focus in on you and on the changes you seek to make within me. May my fast bring me closer to you and to those I meet in the world. Amen.


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Oh Those Thorns!

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Verse Nine: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”.

Paul opens chapter twelve with the revelation of heaven that he experienced. To keep him from being too conceited, he was “given a thorn in my flesh”. ‘Thorn’ implies that it was painful and hard to endure. The ‘thorn’ tormented Paul. And just like we would and do do in a heartbeat, Paul “pleaded with the Lord to take it away”. We do not like to endure pain or suffering or hardship. Neither did Paul.

God’s response is wonderful. In response to Paul’s pleading, God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. It is in moments of pain that we must turn to God to carry us through. It is in moments of weakness that we must rely on God for strength. It is in moments of heartache that we most need God’s grace and love. It has often been said that the view from the mountaintop is wonderful but we grow most in the valleys. Paul’s vision was his mountaintop and the thorn was his valley.

At times in our lives we will certainly suffer trials and hardships. I believe these occur two basic ways. One way, I believe the most common, is simply because life is naturally hard at times. We live in a world where people are imperfect, where disease and illness are part of the cycle of life, and where our free will does not always lead to good decisions. I also believe that we encounter a ‘thorn’ like Paul did at times. Sometimes the thorn comes to remind us that we have strayed from God. It is a poke back towards a right relationship with God. Sometimes the thorn is what it was for Paul – to remind us of our limited ability to control anything and of our absolute need for God. To me, this is Romans 8:28 lived out: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”.

Thorns in life are hard. God’s words illicited this response from Paul: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. May we also trust in, turn to, and rely on God at all times. It is there that Christ’s power shines in and from us. May we acknowledge our own weaknesses and, in doing so, may we reveal how strong we are in Christ. Amen.