pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Lean In

Reading: Psalm 107:1-6

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s love endures forever.”

God is always present, always there to love and care for us. God guides us and protects us from evil. Because of our relationship with God we often expect life to be good and blessed. We are often surprised when tragedies or suffering comes our way. We feel disoriented and unsure. We can question God as we come to feel like those in the Psalm, those whose “lives ebbed away.”

In times of suffering and pain it can be a time of testing for our faith. If we see God as a God who primarily gives us what we want, then we can feel abandoned by God in hard times. We can get angry at God and maybe even distance ourselves from God. But if we see God as a God of love and care and compassion, then we choose to lean into God in times that are hard. We recall times when God was present during our trials and we lean into these memories and experiences.

We can also look to Jesus, to the one who modeled leaning into God better than anyone. The greater the trial, the harder Jesus leaned into God. Christ held onto hope and trusted that God would always be there with all he needed for that moment. He cried out to God and God walked with him. Even in the valley, Jesus declared as the psalmist did, “Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s love endures forever.” May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, when we are hurting and suffering, help us to draw near to you. When life rages and we feel like joining in, pour out your peace upon our hearts. Call us to draw close, to enter into your tender and gentle love. You are all we 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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Play the Shepherd

Reading: Psalm 23:1-3

Verse 2: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters – he restores my soul.”

Today we turn to Psalm 23, probably the best known of all the Psalms. David begins with “the Lord is my shepherd.” This term is very common throughout the Bible. It is often used as a metaphor for God’s love and care and guidance and protection. As is the case in the usual readings of the Psalm, we often play the role of the sheep.

In the New Testament one of Jesus’ strongest commands is to “love one another as I have loved you.” He gives this command just after washing the disciples’ feet. What if we, like the Lord and Teacher, like the Good Shepherd, bear witness to his love by also serving others? What if that is how we sometimes play the role of shepherd as we seek to love others as Jesus first loved us?

In verse 2 we read about how the Lord “makes me lie down in green pastures… leads me beside quiet waters.” These actions lead rest and to a restoration of the soul. For some of us, green pastures and quiet waters are restorative. For others maybe it is a mountaintop or a rushing stream. For others it may be a vibrant worship service. For some it’s time in a quiet prayer chapel. For some it is a coffee and some people watching. For others it is a ballgame or an afternoon drive or a long distance run or ride or… Each of us finds peace and restoration in our own way. All of us long to say, “he restores my soul.”

We will all share pasture today with someone who is without peace, who is without quiet, who needs some restoration of the soul. The question I invite you to consider is this: How can you provide them with “green pastures and still waters” – whatever that might look like for them – today or this week? Consider how you can love or care or guide or protect them to offer some soul restoration. Doing so, you will serve them and love them as Jesus Christ loves you. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to see what I can offer another that will bring peace and restoration to their soul. Guide me to shepherd them and to love them as you love me. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 32:6-11

Verse 10: “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in God.”

Returning to the Psalm we continue with this week’s themes of love, mercy, grace, confession, and forgiveness. Verse six begins our passage for today with these words: “Let everyone who is godly pray to you.” David invites us to do so front a place of assurance that he has experienced again and again through prayer. Through a deep and personal connection to God, David says with confidence, “surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach them.” Yes, storms and trials will come. But God will protect those who oft come to the Lord in prayer.

David connects the act of prayer back to the act of confession that he wrote about in verses 1 and 2. To move away from the weight of our sins, away from the isolation that comes with sin, we have to take these burdens to God in prayer. Once we do so we find ourselves forgiven and ready to continue on our journey of faith. We begin to be taught again in “the way you should go” as God counsels and watches over us. Receiving these gifts, we are drawn even deeper into relationship with God.

In verse 10 David writes, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in God.” To be surrounded – that is a place of security and comfort, of contentment and peace. Trust is built through relationship. The prayer driven cycle of confession and forgiveness, where we best experience God’s unfailing love, builds our trust in God. May we often bring our burdens to the Lord in prayer, trusting them to God’s unfailing love.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your constant readiness to hear the burdens and sins of my life. Your unfailing love cleanses me and prepares me to hear your counsel, your guidance. Open me today to all you have for me. Amen.


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A Longing Love

Reading: Luke 13:31-35

Verse 34: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longer to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing.”

In our gospel text for this week we find a lament from Jesus. Laments express a deep sadness and a longing for something. There are lots of laments in scripture, especially in the Psalms. Jesus was not the first prophet to lament a lack of faith. In today’s passage Jesus expresses his sorrow over the Jews rejecting him as the Messiah. This is a common lament subject for Jesus.

In verse 34 Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longer to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing.” Jesus’ desire to be known and accepted by the Jews is deep and sincere. He was born among these people for a reason. Early on many are drawn to Jesus. Great crowds gather. In remote places people come from all around. People living under Roman occupation and a burdensome religion were driven to the healings and other miracles that Jesus offered. These eased or lightened the difficulties of life. But those at the top of the religious hierarchy kept their distance. This faith that Jesus proclaimed was dangerous to their religion. As his ministry progressed, Jesus taught more and more about humble service and truly loving God and neighbor more than self. The crowds began to thin out as the reality of what it meant to really follow Jesus became clearer and clearer.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, knowing the final rejection and death soon to come, he pauses and laments what could have been. It was nothing new. The religious leaders have a long history of killing and stoning those sent by God, of rejecting God’s prophets. It is with deep and sincere sorrow that Jesus says, “But you were not willing!” Jesus longs to gather them up, to protect them, to shelter them. This remains true today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the heart revealed in Jesus – a heart of pure love for all of humanity. Thank you for a love so great that it even longs for those who reject and even abuse it. Lead me to love as Jesus loves. Amen.


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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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Save Your People

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 7-9

Verse 7: “O Lord, save your people.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Jeremiah 31 is in the part of the book that details how God will bring the Israelites back from exile. One day God promises to gather them “from the ends of the earth.” As our passage opens, the Lord encourages the people to sing with joy and to make their praises heard, praying, “O Lord, save your people.” Through Jeremiah, God invites the people to praise God and to ask God to save them.

Those encouraged to seek God and to petition God for help expands in verse eight to include “the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor.” This partial list represents the weak and the vulnerable. When God says that a “great throng” will return it implies that all who are weak or vulnerable – or outcast or marginalized or powerless or voiceless – all will be called back home to the Lord.

Although written nearly 3,000 years ago, these words remind us today of the same truths that undergirded this invitation and these promises: God loves and cares for those who turn to the Lord for help. God has good plans for you and me. Even when we feel like we are in exile or when we feel weak or powerless or alone, God also encourages us to cry out, “O Lord, save your people.” Like with Israel, God will hear us and will respond. God will rescue and redeem us too.

In verse nine we read, “They will come with weeping, they will pray as I bring them back.” These will be tears of joy and prayers of praise as God guides us “besides streams of water” as God provides a “level path” so that we do not stumble. In love God cares for and protects those who seek and love the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I praise you for all of your love and care. Thank you for always calling out to me in so many ways. Your love and care never fails. You are an amazing God. May all the praises be yours. Amen.


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Spirit Touch

Reading: Mark 6: 14-29

Verse 20: “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a holy and righteous man”.

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Herod Antipas became king after his father died. Herod “the great” was the ruler when Jesus was born, the one who had all the baby boys killed in a fear-driven attempt to remove potential competition. His son, Herod Antipas is not so violent, not so decisive. Today’s passage begins with this Herod hearing about Jesus. As he was with John the Baptist, he is intrigued with Jesus. And as rumors begin to fly about Jesus, Herod wonders if John the Baptist has returned to haunt him.

The bulk of the passage recounts the beheading of John. Herod had John arrested for speaking out against his marriage to Herodias. This greatly angered her. Given the choice, she would have killed John immediately. But Herod “feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a holy and righteous man”. Herod sensed something in John. In the same way he sensed something about Jesus that night that Jesus was on trial. There too he failed to stand for what he knew was right. There too he allowed the crowd and the opinions of others to lead him to make a decision that he knew was wrong.

When we are intrigued by Jesus instead of sure of our faith, we too can easily be led astray. When we become more concerned with the things of this world than with God’s ways, we too can be drawn away from the things of God. We can be just like Herod. Yet in these moments the Holy Spirit whispers to us, nudges us in the right way, in the holy way. Unlike Herod, we have an ally, a guide, a friend. When put to the test may we open our hearts and minds to the direction of the Holy Spirit, bringing glory to God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when the voices of the world howl loudly, when the pressure of peers pushes in, help me to hear the quiet whisper, to feel the gentle nudge. Day by day may there be more of you and less of me. Amen.


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Forever and Ever

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 1: “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of our praise”.

Photo credit: Giuseppe Famiani

Psalm 48 speaks of God’s presence in Jerusalem, in the city of David. For the psalmist the city of God is beautiful and will stand forever atop Mount Zion. God is present in the city itself – in the citadels that protect her from foreign kings and in her temple, the place the people “meditate on your unfailing love”. For the Israelites, Jerusalem will be God’s home forever and ever. Zion will always stand as the fortress of God.

It was another time and place when the Psalm was written. It was a time when people from all around would move inside the city walls in times of danger. It was a place of constant threats from the outside. A great fortified city was of importance to the many kingdoms of the world. For Israel, though, God was at the center of their power. God defended them, kept their walls secure. Within those towers and ramparts the psalmist felt safe and secure, trusting in God’s presence.

In your world today, where do you feel safe and secure? For many of us, our home is one place of refuge and rest. It is a place we feel protected, a place we can trust. For many, God’s presence is felt in the sacred spaces – sanctuaries, chapels, cathedrals. There we feel safe, secure, loved. Yet God is not limited to these structures either. So, in your world, where else do you sense God’s presence? For me, I sense God’s presence out in the wilderness, where his glory is often on full display. There I sense God’s greatness and am drawn into praise. Wherever we encounter God, may we join the psalmist in declaring, “This God is our God forever and ever”. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Living God, you are present in so many ways. Your strength and care and protection surround me. In you I am loved. Be with me always, O Lord. Amen.


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Humbly Turn

Reading: Psalm 20

Verses 1 and 2: “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress… protect you… send you help… grant you support”.

Returning to Psalm 20 today, we focus in on our need for God’s presence in our lives. To enter into the presence of God one must begin with a posture of humility. To recognize and admit our limitations and our inability to do all things opens space in our hearts to turn to the God who can do anything. This is what allowed David to enter the sanctuary to pray and to offer sacrifices. The focus of these actions was to align his heart with God’s heart, to check his own motives, to seek divine guidance. As decisions arise and as challenges come our way, a time of sincere prayer and soulful introspection engage God in the process.

The Psalm begins with a blessing prayer for our times of distress. It prays that the Lord will answer, protect, help, and support us in those times of hardship. David trusts that God will be there for him. His prayer reflects that same truth concerning all faithful people’s relationship with God. To trust requires belief, of course, but it also requires a willingness to submit to God’s will and ways. It places self behind the divine. Although to some surrender indicates weakness, to those who call upon the Lord, it provides access to the source of our true strength. God is the ultimate ally. In all things may we humbly turn to the Lord our God, trusting into his power and strength.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am weak, you are strong. When I am humble, you are glorified. When I am less, you become more. In all things, in all ways, make me obedient to you. Amen.