pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Such a Love

Reading: Psalm 91:2 and 9-16

Verse 14: “Because he [or she] loves me… I will rescue him [or her]; I will protect him [or her].”

Lent has begun! For some, yesterday at an Ash Wednesday service we began by recognizing our mortality and our sinful nature. There was a commitment asked for: to enter into this holy season of Lent intentionally seeking to be made more like Christ. It is a season of preparation for Easter. The work done in Lent is hard work. It asks us to look within, to see ourselves honestly and to confess and repent of those things that limit our relationship with Jesus Christ. Lent can also be a season of investing in our faith. We can read our Bibles or a devotional on a daily basis. We can participate in acts of service. We can fast on a regular basis. Each of these piety practices has the same goal: to make us more like Christ.

Today’s Psalm – #91 – begins with a recognition of God as our shelter, as our refuge, as our fortress. These images paint a picture of a God in whom we can trust. They also remind us that our God is a God who is present and who watches over us. The second half of our passage begins with these words: “If you make the Most High your dwelling…” The key word, of course, is “if.” While God is ever present, God does not force us into a relationship, into being near to God. Just like a parent or grandparent, God is always right there, watching over, ready to respond when a child cries out for help. A child feels able to cry out because they know they are loved. A child trusts that the parent will respond. The parent responds because they love the child. Love is the key to this and any relationship.

In verse 14 we read, “Because he [or she] loves me… I will rescue him [or her]; I will protect him [or her].” God’s love is unconditional. God will love you and me no matter what. But a relationship is a two-way connection. We must love God for it to be a relationship. Within that relationship, God will rescue us. God will protect us. God will lift us up. God will answer and deliver us. God will forgive and redeem us. These are the promises of God. Thanks be to God for such a love as this!

Prayer: Lord God, entering this season of Lent I am reminded of how great your love is for me and for all of your children. Thank you for the love that rescues and protects, lifts and delivers, forgives and saves. Amen.


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Stronghold, Deliverance, Refuge

Reading: Psalm 37:39-40

Verses 39-40: “The Lord is their stronghold in times of trouble… their help and deliverance… their refuge.”

At the end of a Psalm that details the contrast between righteous and wicked living the psalmist brings it home. There are many reasons that people choose to walk one of the two very different paths. One cannot pursue power and wealth and live in sin if walking with the Lord. One cannot be consumed by hope, love, humility, and grace if chasing after the things of this world. One can long for the joy, contentment, or peace that faith brings. One can long for the pleasures of the world. To experience either of these paths to the full is to deny the other path. Our Lord reminded us that the way is narrow, but wide is the path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

The psalmist concludes his coverage of these two choices by recognizing that salvation comes from the Lord. Then David writes, “The Lord is their stronghold in times of trouble… their help and deliverance… their refuge.” Stronghold, deliverance, refuge. These are powerful words and images. In times of trouble, in times of testing and temptation, God is our stronghold, our deliverer, our refuge. When the road is difficult to walk, when self begins to rise up, when the lures of the world scream out, turn to the Lord. God is our stronghold, our deliverance, our refuge. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, by the power of your Holy Spirit alive in me, guard me from temptation. Empower me to walk as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Guide me to lean into your strength, your guidance, and your protection. Amen.


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Today I Choose

Reading: Psalm 71:1-6

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge to which I can always go.”

Do you ever just want to cry or to crawl back in under the covers or to hunker down in your favorite chair to watch movies? The last three years have brought me to this place more than in all my other 52 years combined. Instead of just hearing or reading about the number of cases or deaths, now we all personally know people that are battling or have been lost to COVID. Most of us know several people currently affected. I don’t know about you, but today I needed to read Psalm 71.

Psalm 71 reminds us of what God offers to all who will walk in right relationship with the Lord. We can find refuge in God. We can trust that God will rescue and deliver us in righteousness. We can ask God to deliver us from the hand of evil. Some days, though, I just want to withdraw, to be alone. These days that feels safe, easy. In that place I don’t have to say that word or deal with decisions surrounding the pandemic.

Psalm 71 reminds me, reminds all who are struggling a bit, that God is still right there. It reminds us that God desires to be our refuge, our rescuer, our deliverer. Sometimes it takes a conscious, intentional decision to declare God our refuge… instead of saying, yes, God can be our refuge… This day I choose to live into these words of hope and promise. This day I choose to not walk alone. This day I choose to lean into God so that I can be caring and loving in my words, actions, and decisions. Today I choose to love because God is love.

Prayer: Lord God, I pray for all who are struggling a bit today. I lift up all who would rather just sit the day out. And I pray too for all who cannot sit it out: for the health care workers and others who have to show up, for those who sit another day by the bed of a sick loved one or who stand by the grave of a loved one lost. Pour out your love upon us, O God. Amen.


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Faithful and Loving

Reading: 1st Samuel 2: 1-10

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

Today’s passage contains Hannah’s spirit-filled prayer. She is celebrating the God who heard her prayer for a child after all of these years. In the opening verse we read, “my heart rejoices” as Hannah praises God for lifting her strength up high. Hannah delights in God’s deliverance. Her suffering, the taunting, the feelings of being less than – they all have been wiped away with the birth of Samuel.

In our lives, when God answers a big prayer of ours, do we rejoice and praise God as Hannah did? When we have entered into a time of prolonged prayer, when we have persevered as Hannah did, and then when God answers – how great is our praise and thanksgiving? At these junctures in our walk of faith we should raise the roof of heaven with our praise of the God who listens.

In verse two Hannah prays, “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no rock like our God.” She recognizes that God alone is God. When we are in an extended time of suffering or trial it can be hard to hold fast to God’s presence. In seasons of hardship we can feel alone. Even though Hannah has just given her one and only child – just weaned – to serve in the temple under Eli, she is full of joy. Samuel will always be her firstborn. Hannah recognizes that she must be faithful to the promise she made to a faithful God.

In verse ten Hannah prays, “It is not by strength that one prevails.” She could not will herself to have a child. She could not control the behaviors of Peninnah or the looks and gossip as others judged her barrenness. Hannah knew God as faithful and loving. May it be so for you and for me as we live out our faith today!

Prayer: Lord God, hold onto me. Let me feel your presence and your strength in the trials and sufferings. Keep my eye on you. Amen.


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Over and Over

Reading: Psalm 34: 19-22

Verse 22: “The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in God.”

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

Psalm 34 comes from David and is a celebration of when God rescued him from Abimelech, a foreign king. David praises God for rescuing him and redeeming him from his troubles. The concepts of redemption and restoration run throughout the Bible and throughout this week’s readings. These concepts bring all believers hope in this life.

Leading into this Psalm, David finds himself in a tough situation – powerless before a powerful king. David is fleeing from King Saul and finds himself surrounded by this Philistine king and his troops. (In 1st Samuel 21 the king is identified as Achish.) God leads David to pretend to be totally insane. The king sees that David is no threat to anyone and sends this madman away. We read David’s praise in verse nineteen: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” David had gone on from slaying Goliath to winning many victories for King Saul. In his own true insanity, Saul became very jealous and wanted to kill David. Having only served faithfully, David now finds himself in trouble. Once again, God delivers him from trouble. David was also faithful to God, obediently doing as God directed.

We too are called to faithful, obedient living. We too are invited to listen for God’s voice, seeking God’s guidance and direction. When we do these things we are not guaranteed an easy, trouble-free life. We are promised God’s presence in all of life. Over and over David walked faithfully with God. This leads him to speak these words in verse 22: “The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in God.” May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, in the lows of life I frequently turn to you. There I know I need you. In the good days and even in the OK days my focus can so easily shift a bit. Focus me at all times on an obedient and faithful walk. Help me to be intentional about my walk with you. Amen.


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Hope in Faith

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-7

Verse 6: “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress”.

Today’s Psalm reading begins with a great line: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Every time I read that line I am reminded of a song (Forever) that just makes me happier. This line is found in several Psalms – it is a familiar refrain for the people of God. The thanks in today’s Psalm is centered on the redeeming and gathering power of God in verses two through four, and on the Lord’s deliverance and guidance in verses five through seven. The acts of redeeming and gathering, of delivering and guiding, continue to be reasons we today can also say (or sing), “Give thanks to the Lord…”

Psalm 107 is one of many Psalms of thanksgiving. The nation has wandered and has been dispersed. They have been hungry and thirsty, life “ebbed away”. In his great love, God gathered them back into community, leading them once again by a “straight way”. God’s steadfast love remained strong for his children. God hears their cries and God responded. Through no fault of their own, our current pandemic has caused many to feel difficult emotions. Many are or worry about being hungry and cared for as employment is tenuous in this new time. Many are stressed by anxiety over their health or by the health of loved ones and friends. Many long to be gathered back into community, feeling the pain of isolation and loneliness. Many in our churches and neighborhoods are longing to be redeemed and gathered, to be delivered and guided. Many are crying out, many are hurting. It is a time of struggle, even for some of us.

Verse six reminds us of the promise: “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress”. God will hear and deliver. There is hope in these words. Maybe we need to hear them ourselves. If so, spend some time today with this Psalm and in prayer with your loving God. Maybe we are people of faith who can share these words with those who are worried or stressed or anxious or lonely. As we live out and share our faith, may we each be a part of the healing of the nations. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me and the church to the cries of the hurting and breaking. Lead us to respond in love and hope, offering fellowship and community, care and provision – offering faith in you. Use us to bring healing to our communities and neighborhoods. Amen.


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Encouraging and Uplifting

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4: 16-18

Verse 17: “The Lord stood by my side and gave me strength, so that the message might be fully received”.

As a young married couple my wife and I became part of a couple’s group at our church. Each month when we would gather, we would talk about marriage and we would listen to the stories of the two older couples who led the group. Their experiences made our marriages better. Over the course of the past 20+ years I have been blessed to be in and eventually to lead numerous Bible studies and other small groups. In each of these settings there were always more experienced disciples of Christ. From these would and do come stories of faith and of when God acted in their lives. These witnesses to the faith were encouraging and uplifting for my journey of faith.

Paul has been mentoring young Timothy. He has chosen him to carry on the work of spreading the gospel. Paul is entrusting his life’s work to this young disciple. Timothy has shown himself capable and gifted. This is not a random selection. So in today’s passage Paul has a few stories to share with Timothy. He begins by sharing that at times one may feel alone in ministry – “everyone deserted me”. Paul quickly follows up with a deeper truth: “The Lord stood by my side and gave me strength, so that the message might be fully received”. God did not ever desert him! Just the opposite – God delivered him “from the lion’s mouth”. With an assurance based on both faith and experience, Paul adds that God has rescued him from every evil attack and will continue to do so as God brings Paul “safely to his heavenly kingdom”. Paul is sharing his faith and his experiences as a way to encourage and uplift young Timothy.

As I have progressed into my middle years, I find that I too have some stories to share. On the journey of faith we all have experiences when God guided or intervened or rescued us. These are the stories we have to tell to encourage and uplift those that we gather with on Sunday mornings, that we sit around a table with, that we work with… Like Paul, may we be intentional about passing the faith along to both those in our lives who are on the journey with us and to those yet to begin the journey, all for the glory of God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the journey so far. You have been with me in many ways and many times. Each experience with you builds up my faith and helps me grow closer to you. Open my eyes to the blessings and to the opportunities to share my faith with others. Amen.


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Assurance and Hope

Reading: Psalm 91: 14-16

Verse 14: “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”.

What assurance we find in God’s words today! To those that love God, what hope we hear in these words from our creator! Those who love God and are in a personal relationship with the Lord will be rescued and protected, will have answers to prayers, will be delivered, and will be satisfied. And one more – we will see God’s salvation. What promise and assurance we find in these three verses!

If life were only filled with these things. But we know it is not. Just like all people, Christians experience times of loss and doubt and frustration and wayward living. Unlike the rest of the world, though, we are rescued, delivered… from these things. We are not immune to the realities of life, but we do know a God who loves us and guides us and helps us to walk a better way. We possess the assurance and hope of God.

In the New Testament we receive the commission to help all people of all nations to know this good news too. As disciples of Christ, we are to carry on the work of the first disciples, bringing the assurance of salvation and hope in this life and the life to come. It is a fantastic and wonderful hope and assurance that we know. May we make it known to the world!

Prayer: Lord God, may the words of my mouth and the actions of my heart, hands, and feet make you known this day and every day. Use me fully, according to your will. Amen.


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Good News Story

Reading: Psalm 79: 5-9

Verse 9: “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake”.

As I sit and look across the street at the gray house surrounded by big green trees, the world seems so peaceful. Looking to the left I see the church. The sand-colored bricks and darkened windows present a place of calm and rest. In the little moments like these, when God draws us in, the world feels like such a beautiful place. Then my mind turns to Psalm 79 and to the troubles of today.

The psalmist cries out to God, “How long”? It is a familiar refrain in the Bible and in our lives today. Because of the hard situation of exile, the psalmist cries out for an end to God’s anger. The psalmist asks God to pour it out instead on all those nations that do not believe in God. “May your mercy come quickly to meet us” is the desperate plea. In our time and in our lives we experience all of this. There are times when it feels like God is angry – or at least distant. There are times when a non-believer is living a blessed and enjoyable life and we wonder why the faithful suffer. There are times when God cannot lift us out of our valley quickly enough. We can relate to the psalmist’s words and to the place the Israelites find themselves spirituality and emotionally.

Even in the midst of such times Christians hold onto hope and to the promises that God is near and that we are beloved. Like the Israelites, we have experienced the hand of God intervening and have been brought up out of the pit by our God. But in this window of time, relief has not come. On behalf of the people, the psalmist petitions God, asking God to “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake”. We pray this prayer or one much like it often. We find ourselves or we get ourselves into a tough place and we too seek God’s mercy and grace. When God finds us and renews us to wholeness and full life, as God surely does, then it becomes part of our good news story. And when we choose to tell that story to others, it brings God the glory. May we rejoice in the Lord our God, sharing the good news with others today.

Prayer: God, your mercies never fail and your love never ends. This I know to be true because over and over you are present to me in my need and in my joys. May my witness today help others to know you more. Amen.


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Our Hope

Reading: Psalm 71: 4-6

Verse 5: “For you have been my hope, O sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth”.

Each who is introduced to Christ must make a personal decision: is this Christ worth getting to know more? If the answer is ‘yes’ then a second decision looms: am I drawn in enough to continue this new journey? Some are curious and invest a little time. But soon they realize the commitment level and return to living in the world. Others go a little deeper but make the same decision in the end. The cost of surrendering is too high. A few decide that yes, Jesus is the only way, truth, and life and decide to surrender their lives and take up their cross to follow Jesus Christ. This process can unfold in just a few days at a place like church camp or it can play out over many years. Everyone’s journey is unique to them.

In verse five we read, “For you have been my hope, O sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth”. Because we have unique journeys, some may say since college or since marriage or since some other event. For a lot of us who grew up in the church, we can echo this basic statement. The early experience with the faith of our parent(s) led us into the process of making faith our own. For some the moment of surrender is a powerful experience that leads to asking Jesus to be Lord of their lives. For others it is a gradual and evolving relationship. One cannot identify the precise moment of total surrender, but one can trace the progression to living a fully committed life of faith.

However we arrive to that personal relationship with Jesus Christ, along the way we all experience those “deliver me” moments along with a host of other trials and sufferings. The road is not always easy, but we do not walk alone. As we turn to Jesus and come to rely on him more and more, he becomes our hope. We get to know a Jesus who is ever faithful and is always loving and is constantly present. We too join the psalmist in declaring, “I will ever praise you”.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for sticking with me on my journey. At times I wandered far off the path, but never too far for you. Always you were there, calling me back. Thank you, Lord. Please continue to walk with me through the highs and lows and everything in between. Thank you, Lord. Amen.