pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hold Fast

Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Verse 19: “Listen to the cry of my people.”

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

In the opening verses of chapter 8 God details the many sins of the people and the punishment waiting on their doorstep. The weight of all this is reflected in the world that we read today. These words are heavy upon Jeremiah’s heart and soul. In the opening verse today we read, “My heart is faint within me.” He is overwhelmed with the suffering and the struggle, with the pain and sorrow soon to befall the people of God. It is as if the brokenness of the world has caught up with him. Jeremiah longs for comfort and strength from God.

We too live in a broken world. At times our hearts can grow faint. People continue to struggle with poverty, oppression, injustice, unfair systems… Many are filled with despair and their hearts are also heavy. Like Jeremiah, we can shout out, “Listen to the cry of my people.” The brokenness of his world leads Jeremiah to cry out to God, to seek to maintain his faith in God and in God’s goodness. When overwhelmed we can feel just as Jeremiah does in today’s text.

In verse 22 Jeremiah asks, “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” He questions God not to doubt God but to show that he still believes that God is listening and that God’s heart is still bent towards the people. Even through his tears and grieving, Jeremiah trusts that God is faithful and just and loving and kind and compassionate. May we hold onto these truths, trusting in the Lord our God. Even in the struggle or trial, even in the brokenness, may we hold fast to the God who loves you and me.

Prayer: Lord God, when the world around me or when life itself begins to overwhelm, flood me with your love and truth. Raise up my heart and spirit, give me the faith and strength to offer your love to those in need, be it me or others. Amen.


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Keep in Step

Reading: Galatians 5:22-25

Verse 23b: “Against such things there is no law.”

Photo credit: Caju Gomes

Yesterday in the first half of our Galatians 5 passage we looked at how faithfully living comes down to loving unconditionally. When love truly leads and guides all we do, then we live without even worrying about violating any of the Law, nevermind feeling captive to it. In today’s verses Paul continues this line of thinking.

Today’s passage begins by contrasting the “acts of the sinful nature” with a list of what we’ll call the “acts of the Spirit.” The list we find in verses 22 and 23 are what comes when we live by the Spirit as we practice Christ’s love. Here’s the list: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are the characteristics that emerge and develop in our life when Christ’s love is our primary guide to our relationships, to our actions, and to our decisions.

Aligning with yesterday’s main point, in verse 23b we read, “Against such things there is no law.” There is no law against loving well. Therefore there is no law against these characteristics that come out of loving others as Jesus loves them. Further, Paul reminds us that we are able to “crucify” the sinful nature within when we live this way. How hard it is to sin when filled with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control!

This day and every day may we seek to “keep in step with the Spirit,” being people of light and love in a dark and hurting world. May it be so for us all!

Prayer: Lord God, as I seek to love others unconditionally today, help me to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit. May my life offer love to those in need, joy to those in need, peace to those in need… Amen.


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God with Us

Reading: Psalm 23:4-6

Verse 6: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Today we turn our attention to the second half of Psalm 23. This portion speaks confidently of God’s presence with us. Verse 4 begins with familiar words: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Many have been comforted by these words during a time of loss. Even though death’s shroud hangs over us, God is present. This phrase also has a second meaning. Both Isaiah and Luke use this phrase in connection with Christ coming into the world, bringing light into the darkness.

Continuing in verse 4 we are next reminded of God’s protection from the darkness without and within. Because God is ever with us, we need not fear any evil. The rod defends us from the evil present in the world and that applied to our lives by Satan. The staff guides us and draws us back in, steering us away from evil in our hearts and pulling us back in when we’ve gone astray.

In verse 5 God is a provider. Even though evil is in the world and even though we will encounter those opposed to faith, God still provides for us – food on the table, shelter in the storms, a strong defense in the battles. The provision of all these things and more is in abundance – our cup overflows with God’s love and care.

Verse 6 brings it home. Here we read: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Knowing God as comforter and light, as protector and provider, as Lord of our life – all this leads us to walk daily in God’s goodness and love. Doing so we can assuredly “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder today of all the ways that you are with me. For all of this and so much more, I rejoice and praise your holy name! Amen.


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Love Forever

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

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Psalm 118 is a song of remembrance, victory, celebration. The historical context is the story of exodus, of God freeing Israel from years of slavery in Egypt. The song would be sung during the three yearly festivals as a way to thank God for his presence with the people. As the people marched into Jerusalem, recalling God’s saving acts, there is much joy and expectation as they enter the gates of the city. Years and years of doing this is what lends such energy to the day we know as Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry.

Even though the exodus story is the foundation, the theme of being freed from slavery is the main theme of this Psalm. There is much messianic language in the second part of the Psalm: salvation, stone, rejection, light. We will delve deeper into this aspect later in the week. Today we celebrate what the Lord has done for Israel, for you, and for me.

In the opening verse we read, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. You or I may not have walked out of slavery in Egypt, but we have experience after experience with the Lord’s freeing and saving acts. Time and time again we have been freed from the lures and temptations of this world. Over and over we have been made new again, leaving behind the chains and guilt and shame of our sins, being cleansed by his mercy and grace. Again and again God has reconciled and restored our relationships – sometimes with God, sometimes with one another. We too can joyously approach the Lord our God, thanking God for his goodness and for his love that endures forever. May we, like the Israelites, say, “His love endures forever”!

Prayer: Lord God, over and over… again and again… time after time… Yes, you are so good to me. Yes, your love is amazing. With wonder and awe I praise you and offer my humble thanksgiving. Amen!


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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.