pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Focus

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

Verse 20b: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

In our passage for today, Paul implores us to be reconciled to God. To reconcile means to restore the relationship. Paul is writing to those in the church who have drifted from the faith, to those who have allowed other things to rise above their commitment to the Lord. Unless we are intentional and disciplined concerning our habits of faith, then this can happen to us too. A daily, focused walk with God supplemented by time with the community of faith have always been essential for solid Christian discipleship.

Moving into verses three through seven, Paul shares with the church how he and Timothy have lived out their faith. Note there is both good and bad, both joy and sorrow. Paul and Timothy have endured trials and hardships, persecution, abuse, and slander, as well as sleepless nights. In and through all of this, Paul and Timothy have practiced purity and patience and kindness. They have relied on the Holy Spirit and have sought to practice love above all else. They have always been truthful. Paul wants the church (including us) to know that a walk of faith is not always easy. He also wants to remind us that to walk or live out our faith we must rise above the norms of the world.

As we prepare to enter into Lent, a season of introspection and preparation, it is good to consider how we are walking out our faith. Have we allowed other priorities to rise above our faith commitment? During Lent some people give something up. What in your life could or should you give up to make room for a closer walk with God? Is there a habit or behavior that lessens your walk or your witness? Some people add a habit or practice during Lent. Some join a Lenten study, some read a book that enriches their faith. Some fast, finding new time to pray or to read their Bibles. And some do both – giving something up, adding something in. The point is to reflect on your current walk with Jesus and to find a way to deepen that walk with the Lord during this holy season.

In the last few verses of our passage Paul shares the beauty of a faithful walk. God has sustained he and Timothy in times of need, guiding them through the trials and hardships. Because of the presence of Jesus Christ in their daily lives they are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. Paul and Timothy have their eye on God’s goodness and on the salvation of their souls. As we prepare to enter this holy season of Lent may this be our focus as well.

Prayer: Lord God, prepare me to journey deeper with you during this season of Lent. Guide me to walk closer and more intimately. Show me the way. Reveal the path to walk. Amen.


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Listen and Learn

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 8: “Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy”.

On Monday I focused in on the call part of this passage. Just like Samuel, we all have a story of how God calls us. Samuel might not have known his call story if not for Eli. At this point, Eli is like Samuel’s father figure. Eli has raised Samuel since he was weaned from Hannah. Eli has been serving God a long time and has taught Samuel much, but “Samuel did not yet know the Lord”. Samuel knows who God is and knows a lot about God, but he does not know God. The head knowledge has not yet become heart wisdom. It is Eli that perceives that God is calling Samuel. Eli’s willingness to allow God to speak through another is a testament to his trust in God and to the love and trust that he has in Samuel. It is an example of humble servant leadership.

When Samuel does invite God to speak, the words are difficult to hear. Destruction will fall upon Eli’s household because Eli’s sons are “contemptible” and because Eli failed to “restrain them”. In the morning Eli presses Samuel, wanting to know what God said, probably sensing the bad news. Samuel speaks truth to Eli. Eli accepts the words, humbly acknowledging God’s goodness. I cannot imagine how hard it was for Samuel to say these words to Eli. Yet Samuel loves and trusts Eli enough to tell him.

Both Eli and Samuel understood that there was something bigger than themselves. Both Eli and Samuel loved and trusted God, as well as each other, enough to listen and to learn from each other. To listen and learn from each other. To understand the bigger picture. How our land needs these skills today! Both sides are so polarized that they cannot even hear each other, never mind listening to one another. Listening is essential. It is the only way to discern a good and right way forward. Yes, we can continue to plod down the road we are on, filled with self and contempt and half truths and rancor. We can walk the road of Eli’s household. Or we can choose a better way, one covered in love and peace and trust. These things will not come easy. Surrender never does. Elevating other over self, walking the path of unity and compromise, fighting for our way not my way – all are the work of a humble servant. May it be so Lord. Heal our land.

Prayer: Lord, the wind is howling here in South Dakota. Things are shaking and groaning. It reminds me of our nation right now. The winds can fan the flames or they can usher in something new. Bring a new sense of humble servant leadership to the land, blowing away the chaff. Bless us, O God. Amen.


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Sing to the Lord

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse 3: “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his”.

Psalm 100 is a song meant to be sung in community. It is a song that encourages us to “shout for joy” as we “worship the Lord with gladness”. The Psalm encourages us to bring God our “joyful songs”. Even in times of sadness it is important to worship and sing with joy. At funerals, for example, we sing songs such as ‘In the Garden’, ‘Amazing Grace’, and ‘How Great Thou Art’. The words of our modern hymns, compared to Psalm 100, remind us of God’s goodness and love, even and especially in difficult times.

In verse three we read these words: “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his”. There is no god other than the one God. There is just one God, both now and forever. God is our creator. Each and every one of us were envisioned, woven together, and brought to life by our God. We are God’s workmanship. And, “we are his”. What a great reminder. All that we are, all that we possess, all that God has blessed us with – all are really God’s. As the psalmist writes, “We are his people, the sheep of his pasture”. Even this place we dwell, this earth, even it is the Lord’s.

So this day may we come before God, united as brothers and sisters before the Lord, and may we worship his holy name, for “his love endures forever”. With joy and thanksgiving may all we do and say bring glory to the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are awesome and wonderful. You are everywhere almighty. There are billions of us, but you know each of us intimately and personally – because you created us. This day may I be a reflection and a spreader of your great love. Amen.


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Glimpses

Reading: Exodus 33: 12-23

Verse 16: “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us”?

Last week in Exodus 32 we read about how God was displeased with and angry with the people for making and worshipping an idol. Moses stood in the gap for the people and God’s wrath relented. Between then and today’s reading, two significant events happened. Moses called the Levites to himself and then sent them out into the camp armed with swords. 3,000 people were killed. We believe these were the ringleaders in the doubting of Moses’ return and in the forming of the golden calf. The second event is the setting up of the “tent of meeting”. Moses set up a small tent just outside of camp to inquire of the Lord. The people could see Moses go into the tent and know where he was. The pillar of cloud would stand at the entrance to the tent when Moses was inside, indicating God’s presence. In these times the people would worship God.

At this point, apparently God is considering sending the Israelites on into the Promised Land on their own. In today’s passage Moses first reminds God, “these are your people”. Moses then makes it personal, asking God to go with him. God is willing to be present to Moses because he has been faithful to God. Moses continues to press the issue, saying, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here”. In essence, without God, what would be the point of going any further? Moses then asks, “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us”? Without God’s presence, the Israelites are indistinguishable from any other people on the face of the earth. The same is true for us. Without God’s presence in our lives, we would be just like most of the world. At best, we’d just be some nice, kind people gathering in nice buildings.

As the passage continues, God agrees to continue being Israel’s God. Next Moses asks to see God’s glory. If God is willing to be present to and with him and the people, Moses wants to have a glimpse of God. God agrees to cause “all of my goodness” to pass by Moses. God hides Moses in the cleft of a rock at the moment of his passing by. To see God’s face would bring death. God’s hand shields Moses in the critical moment and then Moses sees God’s back as God walks on.

We too long for glimpses of God in our lives. We also want to tangibly feel close to God and to his presence. At times we do. These moments can be in worship at church or in a sunrise or along the path in the woods. It can be wrapped in the kindness or love of others or it can be in the way we feel after a time of reverent prayer. These are but a few of the ways we can catch a glimpse of God in our lives. Where else have you caught a glimpse of God? As you and I reflect on this question, may we rejoice and praise the Lord our God for his presence in our lives.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for your presence in my life and for all the times I have literally felt you with me and for the times when I have seen you in another or in the created world. You are so kind and good to me. Thank you, Lord! Amen.


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Come and Listen

Reading: Psalm 66: 8-20

Verse 16: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”.

The first half of our Psalm text dealt with the times when hardship or trial came and with how God was with the people of Israel. Each of these times of suffering or refining are part of the story of God’s people, just as are the stories of how God acted on our behalf. Each of our churches and each of us as followers of Jesus have these same experiences. When was a time that God acted on behalf of your church, reminding the congregation of his faithfulness and love? When were some times when God has done this for you personally?

In verse sixteen the psalmist gives an invitation: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”. He is inviting the family of God to gather around, to hear his stories of God’s goodness. Most often when we think of sharing our faith story it is with someone who is lost, broken, or unsaved. Yes, this is part of our call as disciples. Yet at times it is also important to tell our stories of faith to one another. The communal sharing of stories builds up the bonds of community. It reminds us of our common journey. Speaking our faith stories builds up our own faith as it strengthens the faith of our brothers and sisters. When we tell of what God has done it opens eyes and hearts to the possibility of what God can and will do in their lives or churches. Times of sharing with fellow believers also builds up our ability to share the stories with people outside our churches. It is practice, so to speak. All of this is wonderful. But there is also one other way that God’s Holy Spirit becomes active in times of sharing.

Often our struggle or time of testing or refining is one that a brother or sister is just entering or is in the midst of. In a general sense, all sin in common to mankind. It is hard to admit that we struggle as Christians, and it is especially true when newer to the faith. By naming where we have needed God’s help it opens a way for others to name their struggles and trials. It opens the way for us to walk with one another.

There are many reasons to “come and listen”. May we be storytellers, seeking and taking each opportunity that God provides to share our stories of faith with others.

Prayer: Father God, there have been many times when another’s story of faith has encouraged or empowered me. There are times when it has led me to admit my struggles and to find one who will walk with me. You have always been faithful. Always. Lead me to share my stories with others. May my stories be of encouragement and may others find hope in them. Amen.


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…For You Are with Me

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 4: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

Almost all people with a little church background would recognize verse four. Even those without church experience would recognize this verse as a statement of faith. Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable and beloved Psalms. Verse four would not be most folk’s choice for ‘favorite verse of Psalm 23’. As a whole, the Psalm offers or reminds us of God’s provision and guidance, of his presence and blessings, and of the goodness we experience when we walk with the Lord. And there in the middle we find verse four.

This verse is there because it is part of life. The valley of shadow is one we all walk through. It is certainly one that the Israelites and David himself knew well. The Israelites time in slavery and the trials of wandering the desert for 40 years were valleys. The invasions and occupations by many different world powers and the exile to Babylon were valleys. David had his too – hunted down by Saul, watching God allow his son to die… We also have our valleys. We’ve felt exile and we’ve been overwhelmed. We’ve felt the sting of death and we’ve been left all alone. This is why verse four rings so true. Not that we have not experienced blessings and provision, guidance and protection. We have. Over and over. But those moments when Jesus drew near and walked the valley floor right there beside us – those are the moments. We can join David in saying, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. Yes, goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives. Yes, we will dwell with God forever. But the Lord is also with me when I need him most. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you have walked with me for many years. Often our footprints are side by side. Sometimes, though, there has been a gap between our paths. But you always pulled me back, close once again. Always. And sometimes, sometimes the footprints seem to be almost one. In the deepest valleys you have been so close. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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Hope Rising

Reading: Lamentations 3: 1-9 and 19-24

Verse 22: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail”.

In a prayer calendar that I am using in this coronavirus season, the author titled today “Silent Saturday”. Life does go on outside my office window – I can hear the birds singing and occasionally a car passes by. But when I read Lamentations 3 and when I think of how the disciples and Mary and the other followers of Jesus must have felt, it feels like a silent Saturday.

Most scholars believe that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations just after the destruction of Jerusalem. In verses one through nine we can sense the pain and grief and mourning of the author. The writer feels cut off from God’s presence. He feels as if God were shutting him out. For the disciples and for many of us in this pandemic season, they must have related to these words just as we can relate. Feelings of isolation and of doubting God can become so real. As we read verse twenty we can feel it: “My soul is downcast within me”. Today feels like a silent Saturday. Some days it is good to sit in that place. Today is a good day to do so, to connect back to that room of fearful and grief-stricken followers of Jesus Christ.

Even though it is good to remember and to spend some time there, we do not have to remain there too long. As verses 21 through 24 unfold, we are reminded as Jeremiah was: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail”. We too have hope. The disciples and followers had to wait for Sunday morning. They did not yet know. God came to Jeremiah and brought him “new mercies”. He experienced God’s great faithfulness. The disciples will. We do.

Today is also called Holy Saturday. This day reminds us of God’s goodness to humanity and to each of us. In the brokenness of today we can begin to sense the hope rising. We can begin to sense the unfolding of God’s plans that are good and wonderful. As we do so, may we rejoice in the goodness and mercy of our God.

Prayer: Merciful God, today feels hard. The isolation and separation feels ratcheted up due to what I fear is a hard decision about tomorrow. Mother Nature may be intruding on our plans. But maybe that is part of your plan. They are always greater. Help me today to be guided by prayer and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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A Psalm for Today

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

For many of us, just hearing the first verse of Psalm 23 triggers the same response as hearing these words: “Our Father, who art in heaven…”. The words of Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer are deeply embedded in our hearts and minds. This week’s “Disciplines” devotional writer, Don Salier, describes Psalm 23 this way: “We find deep life and faith compressed into these few verses”. We do indeed!

This Psalm of David speaks of the love and care that he enjoyed in his relationship with God. These words are beloved because we too can experience and relate them to our own relationship with God. The opening verse speaks of God’s care and provision, of the guidance and protection we receive. The ideas of green pastures and quiet waters ooze with love and care, with rest and renewal. Keeping us on the “paths of righteousness” requires a LOT of guidance and patience on God’s part. The fact that God does this for all of our lives shouts volumes about the depth of God’s love for you and me. And then verse four! In the worst times of life, God is right there. The valley may literally be death. Or it might be addiction. It might be divorce or the unexpected loss of a job. In these valleys the words of David always ring true: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. God is our ever present help in times of need.

Turning to verse five we remember the table prepared for us in two ways. One is the great feast that awaits us in heaven. The second is the great feast that greets us at the communion table. In both settings our cup will and does overflow with God’s mercy and love. Lastly comes the closer, verse six. Yes, yes, yes! Within our relationship with the Lord, goodness and love are ours. In this life’s days and in all of our days in the life to come, we who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will dwell in the house of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, oh how these words of David fill my heart with joy. Thank you for placing these words upon his heart so that they fill my heart. Thank you for your love. It is amazing and so life-giving. All praise and honor are yours, my God. Amen.


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Goodness and Love

Reading: Psalm 23: 5-6

Verse 6: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”.

Yesterday we looked at how our Shepherd provides and cares for us, the sheep of His fold. Today we look at the last third of Psalm 23. God prepares a table for us. In the eternal, this will be the banquet feast in heaven. In this life it is a place to gather, to relax, to share in a meal. Usually we gather at the table with family and friends. It is the place we laugh and enjoy community. It is where we share our day or week, our joys and concerns. The table can also function as the place we gather to learn and discuss our faith. Many groups gathers around many tables in many churches and homes to grow deeper in our faith.

Our psalmist includes someone that maybe we’d rather not have at the table – our enemies. At the table is the best place to become not enemies. To sit and talk with someone who has wronged you or that you have wronged often leads to healing and reconciliation. It also often leads to the common ground that allows a friendship to begin. Jesus was very clear that we are to love and pray for our enemies, to forgive them, to be reconciled to them. If we are truly loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then there is not room in our hearts for enemies. When we truly live with no enemies then our head is anointed with the oils of blessing and our cup overflows with love and mercy and goodness.

The psalmist names this blessing in verse 6, saying, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”. When we dwell in the house of the Lord, we are filled with His presence and love and peace and grace and strength… Yes, indeed our cup overflows. The more it overflows the less room we allow in our hearts for enemies and hate and prejudice and stereotypes… There is then more room for God. May we each actively seek to be reconcilers and people of grace and mercy and forgiveness this day and every day, all for the glory of God and the building of His kingdom.

Prayer: Lord, may I be filled with your love. Drive all hate and evil from my heart. Let “enemy” not be a term in my life. Grant me words of healing and mercy and life today. Amen.


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Goodness and Love

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 & 19-29

Verses 1 & 29: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”.

The words that bookend our passage today is a familiar verse. It is found in calls to worship, in prayers, in communion liturgies, and in at least one praise song. Just reading those words triggers the tune in my head. The Psalm is full of other imagery and words and phrases that are also familiar. Several lines of our text for today bring to mind Palm Sunday, when the gates were opened wide and people joined the “festal procession” with boughs in hand. Like the people did, we too will wave palm branches and say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” this Sunday.

In verse 22 we hear another familiar phrase – the stone the builders rejected. Jesus paraphrases this verse, calling Himself the cornerstone. We cannot miss the next verse: “the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes”. We will celebrate what the Lord has done on Easter Sunday. And then the next verse, #24, is the start of the chorus in a popular praise song and is also often used in prayers. The Psalm is just full of lines and imagery that helps us connect to our faith.

When we slowly read through and consider the words and the meaning that we have attached to them, we too are led to “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”. We praise God for His goodness and His love. We also have personal verses or songs from verses or experiences from our lives that also remind us of God’s love and goodness. May we each take a few moments today to recall some of these and to lift our praises to God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you so much for the ways big and small that you are weaved into my life. You will ever be my God and I will ever praise your holy name! Amen.