pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Things of Heaven

Reading: Luke 12: 32-34

Verse 32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”.

Jesus says to the crowd, to his followers, and to us today: do not be afraid. Fear drives a lot of what people think and do and say. Stress, anxiety, and worry are close cousins to fear. They too rest in the unknown and in the realm of doubt. The antidote: trust.

Jesus goes on to remind us why we should not fear, saying, “for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”. God wants to give us what we need and more. Jesus has just finished talking about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. In these verses Jesus emphasizes how much God cares for us, his children. Jesus transitions from assuring us that God will clothe and feed us to the assurance that God will give us the kingdom. It is a kingdom in the here and now and also in eternity. The first leads to the second. But that is tomorrow’s reading!

Today Jesus focuses on the kingdom here. To live in God’s kingdom here and now, we are called to focus our priorities on the ways of God. When we choose to live a servant’s life we are walking in Jesus’ footsteps. When our focus is first on loving God and then on loving neighbor then we are nearing the kingdom that Jesus is talking about. When we are generous and gracious and kind and compassionate then we find much joy and peace and contentment in our relationships, not in our stuff. In walking this way, we come to trust in our loving father. Fear is not a part of our lives. When the most important things in our lives are our relationship with God and our relationships with each other, then our heart is being filled with the treasures of heaven. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for helping me to value my relationships above my stuff, my time, myself. Keep me focused on you and upon those around me. May I love and serve as Jesus did. Amen.

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Go

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 9b-15

Verse 9b: “What are you doing here”?

Earlier this week I looked at verses 1 through 9a in this same chapter. To review quickly, Elijah angered the queen, fled in fear, and was cared for and guided by God to the cave on Mount Horeb. In the morning, God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here”? This is a question that I think God asks often.

Fear and worry and doubt and job fatigue led Elijah to flee – to hide from the world. I can relate to some of these emotions and to Elijah’s response to them. Once in a great while monastic life seems like a great idea. His loving God leads Elijah to a safe place, to a cave atop a mountain, far away from his enemies and from the world. Until God asks this question, the cave is a comfortable place for Elijah.

When I retreat it is not usually to a cave or to any other physical place. When I do retreat it is usually into myself. In those moments when the world seems against me or when it seems to be closing in, I withdraw emotionally. In my mind I disconnect. I try and create felt distance and separation. But soon enough, God asks, “What are you doing here”?

Elijah has a response. He has been thinking about it. He knows the question is coming. This process is familiar to me too. Elijah tells God that he has been “very zealous for the Lord God Almighty” – I’ve been working really hard for you God. And these people – these Israelites – they have broken the covenant. Why would I want to be with those sinners? And then the ice cream atop the cake – “I am the only one left”. Woe is me. Have you been here? I certainly have.

The God says, in essence, ‘Come here. Come here Elijah’. Elijah goes to the entrance to the cave and the noise of the world passes by. The wind, the earthquake, the fire – those are the threats of Jezebel, the fears of the world, the self-pity. Then Elijah hears a gentle whisper. Ah, God has arrived. It is significant that God comes in the calm, in the quiet.

But once again Elijah tries the “I’ve been so busy…” excuses. God simply says, “Go…”. Return to the world, go where I am sending you. I will be with you. God knows we will stumble and falter too. God says the same thing to us: go, go where I lead. I will be with you. God continues to lead Elijah every step of the way. God will do the same for us. So, go.

Prayer: God, in those moments when I too doubt or fear or feel wrung out, come and push me back out into the world. Use me for what you will. Strengthen and encourage and fill me for the task at hand. Help me to ever step forth in faith. 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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Helper and Deliverer

Reading: Psalm 37: 7-11 & 39-40

Verse 39: “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; He is their stronghold in times of trouble”.

Our passage from Psalm 37 begins with words that are hard for many of us to live out: be still and wait patiently for the Lord. Yes, in our minds we can understand the idea that God’s timing is not our timing. But oh how we want it to be at times! We see and think day to day in very concrete, time-bound ways. That concern, that answer, that worry – we do not like to sit with these things. Yet sometimes we must wait. In reality, we come to understand that we are in control of very few things. God is in control of it all. In the next few verses, David reminds us of God’s bigger and better plan.

David encourages us to stay away from evil things like anger and wrath and from evil men because they will be cut off. He reminds us to hope in the Lord. Those who place their trust in God instead of in earthly things will one day inherit the land. For some, it may be in the eternal sense, when they pass on to the next life. For some it will be when the new earth comes with Jesus’ return. For others it is in this life that some blessings will come. Ultimately, all who are faithful will “enjoy great peace”.

At the close of our passage David begins to address why we wait upon the Lord in the eternal or big sense. In verse 39 he writes, “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; He is their stronghold in times of trouble”. For those who are righteous – those living right according to God’s ways – salvation is the final outcome. Our spirits or souls are saved from this world, from the power of sin and death, and are able to envision the time when we will dwell in His light and love. Because of this we who are faithful live with hope. Because of this, we need not worry or fret in this life. That is why God is our stronghold in times of trouble. We know the big plan.

The Psalm closes with a great reminder: the Lord helps and delivers us. In the present, in the day to day of life, God helps and delivers us. There is no better help than that! When we turn to the Lord, trusting in our helper and deliverer, we find refuge in Him. He is our stronghold. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, thank you for your saving work on the cross and in my life. Help me to ever trust in you as my strength and shield, as my helper and deliverer. You are so good to me. Thank you Lord! Amen.


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Connection

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 7-8 and Psalm 1: 1-3

Verse 7: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

In both Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 we read about being connected to God. It is a connection that helps us avoid those who are wicked and who are sinners. It is a connection that lessens our fears and worries. In Jeremiah 17:7 we read of the benefits of staying connected to God: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

The psalmist identifies the connection point. When we delight in the law and when we meditate on it, we are blessed. When we read our Bibles and when we meditate on what we read – seeking understanding and application for our lives – then we are blessed. For the psalmist, this is the source that is like water to the roots of a tree. Water is essential for life. It nourishes the tree. In time, the tree produces fruit. Its leaves do not wither, it prospers. So it is with us when we sink our roots down into the Word, delving into our Bibles, soaking up God’s word.

Jeremiah also speaks of blessing when we are connected to God. When ‘heat’ comes we do not fear and when hard times come we do not worry. If our roots are connected to God, then we can rest in God’s presence and peace. The things of this world do not consume us. In those times when life ramps up and we feel the heat, we can turn to God for assurance and refuge. When we face difficult situations, instead of worrying, we can turn to God and place our lives in His hands, trusting in His love.

This metaphor is also picked up in the New Testament. Just yesterday I shared a message from John 15. In the first five verses, Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches. Jesus emphasizes our absolute need for connection too. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. And just as Jeremiah and the psalmist speak of bearing fruit, so too does Jesus. In verse 4 Jesus shares the key to bearing fruit: “remain in me and I will remain in you”. We do this by spending time in our Bibles and by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In these ways we remain connected to the true vine – Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus, our commission is to make disciples. By sharing the good news of Jesus and by telling the story of what He has done in our lives we help others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. As others come to know and accept Jesus as Lord, our lives are bearing fruit. In John 15, Jesus tells us that when we remain connected to Him we will bear much fruit.

This day and every day may we connect to our Bibles, drinking deeply from the connection that we find in Jesus. May this be the source of life that we share with the world!

Prayer: God of all creation, help me to know you more intimately today. Strengthen my connection with you, build up our relationship. Fill me with you so that all I do and say brings you glory. Amen.


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In All Things

Reading: Philippians 4: 4-7

Verse 7: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ”.

Paul writes these encouraging words to the Philippians from prison. Even though he is in chains, his outlook and attitude are the same as always. Paul lives into the words he writes; he prays that the people of Philippi do too. The living Word of God encourages us to do so as well.

Paul begins our passage today with “Rejoice!” twice. In all cases, good or bad, Paul encourages us to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in the One who is ever present in our lives. Because we rejoice, we are not always anxious or worried. This leads to the gentleness that Paul implores us to exhibit. Be at peace. “In everything”, by prayer, present our requests to God. If something is on your heart, bring it to God in prayer.

Bringing all to God in prayer accomplishes at least four things. First, it helps us recognize that we are dependent upon God for much in this life. We can do very little on our own. Second, it deepens our relationship with God. By being honest and intimate with God, we are building that connection. Third, it helps us live in a place of humility. The first two things fight against the arrogance that seems to be so natural. And, lastly, it brings us peace as we turn the cares and worries of life over to God.

In verse 7 Paul writes, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ”. Yes, the peace that settles over us is of God and, therefore, it does transcend our human understanding. It is a peace that stills the anxiety. It is a peace that brings the gentle demeanor. It is from this place of peace that God guards our hearts and minds. God guards us against the lies and slings of Satan and the world. We rest in our place in God’s kingdom, knowing that in Jesus Christ we are blessed with the salvation of our souls. It is a very good place to be.

In all things, may we trust in the Lord, finding peace for our lives and hope for our souls. Amen.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, may I always turn all things over – the joys and rejoicing as well as the trials and sufferings. In all things, you are my God, my hope and peace. Amen.


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Stop, Trust, Believe

Reading: Matthew 6: 25-33

Verse 33: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

“I tell you, do not worry about your life… about what you will eat, drink, wear…”. Jesus is telling us not to worry. This is a bit like Jesus telling us to be obedient – yes, we want to but it can be so hard. He is calling us to walk closely with God.

Jesus gives us two examples that illustrate why we should not worry. God feeds the birds if the air, which are much less valuable than us. God will feed us too. God makes the lillies beautiful, even though they last only a short time. Imagine how much more care goes into clothing us then! Jesus even goes so far as to point out that the pagans chase after these things. The pagans – certainly we are not like them. Alas, we are. We don’t trust that God will provide or we are not content with what God does provide, so we take matters into our own hands and we chase after these things.

Instead of chasing, Jesus invites us to stop. Instead of worrying, Jesus invites us to trust. Instead of wondering about the what-ifs, Jesus says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. Stop, trust, believe – and God will take care of you. All will be given to those who seek God first. Seek first God.

This day, may we rejoice in the many blessings that God has given us as we offer our thanksgivings for them, one by one. May the Lord our God bless you and yours this Thanksgiving!

Prayer: Lord, thank you so much for all the ways that you bless me – my family, my friends, the basic necessities, my church, and most of all you! Thank you Lord! Amen.