pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Give Thanks, Sing Joy!

Reading: Psalm 107: 17-22

Verses 19-20: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth his word and healed them”.

In the opening verses of Psalm 107, which we read yesterday, we hear of the depth of God’s love and care. It is a love that is unconditional and unending. In today’s verses from this Psalm we see an expression of that love. In verse seventeen we read that some have turned away from God. This is a road we all have gone down and will continue to go down on occasion. We become foolish and rebellious and then we often suffer the consequences. The Israelites who had wandered finally cry out to God. They are in distress, near to death. Perhaps we do not wait quite that long, but we can get stuck in our sin – either too proud to admit we need help or to deep in our guilt and shame to approach our holy God.

Again, yes once again, God demonstrates his faithfulness. In verses nineteen and twenty we read, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth his word and healed them”. God healed them and rescued them from their place of distress and despair. The Israelites again received God’s unfailing love. When we cry out we too will be healed. We too will be rescued from whatever place we have wandered to. God’s love will save us. Like the psalmist and the Israelites, may we give thanks to the Lord our God and may we sing songs of joy for his unfailing love. May we rejoice in the Lord always!

Prayer: Lord God, when I wander you always call me back. Your Holy Spirit guides me to the place of repentance. There you cleanse and restore me. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Faithful Too

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse 3: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”.

In our Isaiah 61 passage for this week God speaks hope to the people living in exile. In today’s Psalm, the people have returned home, they have experienced that joy. The psalmist recalls, “We were like men who dreamed”. They had heard the words of hope and it felt like a distant future. And then God moved and they were back home. They were filled with laughter and joy when they reflected on what the Lord has done for them. If we pause and give thought to our own journeys of faith, we too will recall times when God rescued us in an amazing or unexpected way. The God of Israel remains active in our lives.

Just as the psalmist writes “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” we too can say. Our experiences with a faithful God fill us with joy. It also builds up our faith and trust in God. Life will happen again. And again. Each time, if we turn to God, we will find that God is still faithful. The end or the result might not immediately be what we wanted or desired – that is not what the psalmist is saying. In God’s big picture, in God’s plan, God is in control, looking our for our good. Sometimes it takes years to see how that thing was good, but eventually we will if we continue to remain faithful too.

We can read into the Psalm that something has happened again. Whatever life has brought, the psalmist asks, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord”. There is sadness or perhaps hunger in the family of God. There is also hope and faith and trust in God. From past experiences with God, the psalmist knows there will once again be joy. He knows this because he knows God is faithful. If you are in the midst of trial or suffering, remember that the God of Israel remains active and alive. Turn to the Lord your God. God is faithful.

Prayer: Lord God, I lift up all who are struggling these days. Fill them with your presence, reassure them of your love and care. Bring them joy. In the power of the Holy Spirit may they know you are near. Amen.


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Hope in Exile

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16

Verse 16: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”.

Ezekiel was one of God’s prophets. He ministered to Israel during their time in exile in Babylon. After being defeated by the Babylonians, many Israelites were dispersed throughout the kingdom of their conquerors. These words from God’s prophet would bring hope during a difficult time. These words of God would remind the people that their current experience will not be their reality forever. Both of these circumstances are true today. In our current pandemic, there is no doubt that this is a difficult time for almost everyone. Although it feels like it has been a really long time, we know that the virus and its effects will not last forever. Yet, in the midst of it, we are much like the Israelites in Babylon – isolated, feeling powerless, becoming a bit hopeless, grieving, separated.

Beginning in verse eleven God reveals his plan. In this verse God tells the people that he will “search for my sheep and look after them”. In the next verse God promises to “rescue them” from isolation, from exile, from “all the places where they were scattered”. Then God shares that he will bring them back home. In verse thirteen God states, “I will bring them into their own land”. God will search for his children; God will rescue them and gather them; and, God will bring them back home. Living in a time of defeat, in a time of exile, to hear that God is still God, that God loves and cares for them, that God will once again bring them all back together – these are words of healing and hope.

During these COVID times, just as was the case in exile, some people are coping or doing okay, some are not. Those who are naturally resilient, those who are disposed to optimism, those whose faith has grown in these times – these folks are going alright. There is a middle group who are mostly getting by. They have some of these positive characteristics, but life is now a delicate balance. And there are those who have depleted their reserves of these characteristics. They are struggling emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally. This last group, especially, needs to hear verse sixteen’s promise: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”. God has a special love for those hurting the most. Jesus, his son, modeled this love. Jesus, our Lord, calls us to follow his lead. To those around us most feeling like they are in exile, may we share these words of hope and love. And, if we dare, may we be these words of hope and love. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, lead and guide me to the list, to the strays, to the weak. Set my feet towards those hurting in my communities. Break my heart for what breaks yours. Fill my broken heart with your love and care. Use me to bring hope to those without. May it be so. Amen.


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Called

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 1: 1-10

Verses 2 and 3: “We always thank God for… your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, your endurance inspired by hope”.

Paul is writing to the church in Thessalonica. He founded this church early in his ministry. Paul begins his letter to them with some words of thanksgiving for their faith and witness to Jesus Christ. These folks were living in a pagan culture that had no experience with faith in Jesus Christ. The church represented a very small minority. For most of us, growing up, Christianity was the norm. This was not the case for the early followers of Christ.

If we keep this in mind, we better understand what Paul is being thankful for in verses two and three. Here he writes, “We always thank God for… your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, your endurance inspired by hope”. In the midst of a pagan world, living out the love of Christ was not easy. Yet this early church worked, labored, endured. They were sustained by faith, love, and hope. In spite of suffering, they had “welcomed the message with joy” and their “faith in God has become known everywhere”. In spite of the culture around them, they were living out their faith well, making Christ known in a pagan culture.

In our part of the world, we now live in what has been called the post-Christian era. As the world has become increasingly secular, the overall witness of the church has declined. Yet there is much work, much labor, still to be done. Recent events have drawn attention to the racial tensions, to the oppression, to the unjust systems in our nation, to the economic disparity… The reality is that almost all of our communities contain the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, the lonely, the widow… All of our communities have people living within who have experienced injustice, oppression, abuse… All of these conditions have existed for a long time.

Just as the people of the church in Thessalonica were called to be faith, love, and hope in the world, so too are we called. Will we be “imitators of the Lord”, perhaps even “in spite of severe persecution”, as we step out into the world around us? Doing so, through the power of the Holy Spirit, our faith will become known as we share the good news of Jesus Christ through our acts of justice, mercy, and kindness. May it be so as we seek to serve Jesus, the one who rescues.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to be faith, love, and hope in the world. Open my eyes to the needs of my community and guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to stand with those in need of your presence. Set me apart for service to the King. Amen.


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I Will Be with You…

Reading: Exodus 3: 7-15

Verse 12: “And God said, ‘I will be with you'”.

In today’s passage we see the love and compassion of God for his people. In the first few verses we hear how God has “seen the misery”, “come down to rescue them”, and “have seen… the oppressing”. God has heard the cries of his people and has decided to act. As is most often the case, God will act through a person. God chooses Moses to go to Pharaoh to “bring the Israelites out of Egypt”.

In response to Moses’ self-doubt God tells him, “I will be with you”. God does remain present to Moses from that day forward – in numerous trips before Pharaoh and through many trials and rebellions in the wilderness. God remained Moses’ constant. Many years later God was a constant presence again. Born of the virgin Mary, God became one of us. As Jesus Christ, God lived out what he told Moses: “I will be with you”. The same love, the same compassion, the same empathy lived among humanity. God’s action took the forms of bringing wholeness to physically and/or emotionally and/or spiritually broken and hurting people. It led people to a new or renewed connection to God and to community. Jesus brought people out of their darkness, isolation, brokenness, and sin. He broke the chains of slavery – of sin and death – so that we could live in right relationship with God. Jesus died to accomplish this victory.

His death was not the end of the story. Jesus gifted us with the Holy Spirit. In the giving of the Holy Spirit to dwell in each believer’s heart, Jesus says, “I will be with you – forever”. The Holy Spirit is our constant presence of God in our lives. The Spirit leads us just as it led Moses, just as it was lived out by Jesus. Our Christlikeness, our creation in the image of God – these lead us to see the misery of the people, to go to rescue them, to work to end their oppression, to hear their cries. This day and every day may Christ within us lead us out into the world to share God’s love, compassion, and empathy, to help others know the God who promises, “I will be with you”. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you hear and see and feel and act, help me to do the same. Lead and guide me to be your love in my world. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Ever at Work

Reading: Psalm 105: 6, 16-22, and 45b

Verse 17: “He sent a man before them – Joseph, sold as a slave”.

Psalm 105 tells the story of the Israelites time in Egypt and of how God saved them. It is the story of God’s faithfulness to his chosen people. In this sense, the Bible is a historical document. The Bible tells the whole story of God’s people, beginning in the garden of Eden and ending with the coming renewal of heaven and earth. One events links to another, person after person plays their role. All are part of God’s good plans, all working towards the final return to all of God’s children living and walking and talking daily with the Lord in a new paradise.

Today’s verses are part of that story. They are, in fact, just a part of Joseph’s story too. The psalmist reminds us that before the famine occurred, God was already at work. That is usually how God works. In verse seventeen we read, “He sent a man before them – Joseph, sold as a slave”. God was ahead of the game. In his wisdom he saw how to use this world event to bring the family of Israel back together again. Joseph’s rise to power in the king’s household was also foretold. Those dreams that a young Joseph had would come to pass. All parts of the bigger story.

Today’s passage also reminds us that Joseph’s journey was not always easy. He entered Egypt as a slave, sold and discarded by his own flesh and blood. Joseph’s path to become “master” of pharaoh’s household would include a couple of other trials along the way. Through it all, Joseph remains faithful, trusting in the working out of God’s plan. God continues to be at work. One trial after another reveals the power of God at work in the world. That is one of the major overall themes in the story of the Bible: God is faithful. God is ever at work in the story of God’s chosen ones, ever working the whole family together with one another and with God himself. This is the Israelites’ story, this is Joseph’s story, this is our story. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Living God, your fingerprints are all over Joseph’s story. No matter what came – his brothers’ jealousy, Potiphar’s wife’s lust, the cupbearer’s poor memory – Joseph remained faithful and you remained at work. Grant me the same faith and trust and perseverance, O God. Amen.


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First and Always

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 3: “Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test'”?

Moses is leading the people on a journey to the Promised Land. It will be a forty years journey. When I think of the length of the journey, it reminds me of the long drives to Montana. Sometimes before we even left South Dakota, the “Are we there yet?” refrains would begin. When that happened I knew it was going to feel like a long trip. Even though it was only an eleven hour drive, I think it felt a little bit like Moses was feeling in our passage today.

The Israelites have recently been rescued from slavery in Egypt. In this process, God brought plague upon plague, finally breaking Pharaoh’s spirit with the death of the firstborn. The Israelites were passed over by the angel of death. This miracle became an event they celebrate every year, to this day. The hand of God continued to be upon Moses as he parted the sea and saved the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptian army. God has just provided manna, quail, and water to all the people. As they set out once again the people find themselves at a place with no water. Instead of turning to God in prayer, thanking him for the many saving acts that they have just experienced and seeking one more, they choose to grumble at and quarrel with Moses. In response Moses asks, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test“? I imagine God was thinking the same thing, don’t you?

At times I’m sure I’ve made God think that. I know God loves and cares for me, provides for and protects me, leads me and guides me. Even so, trust in God is not always my default response when a need arises or when I find myself in a time of trial. Seeking God is usually my first response, but not always. And it should be always. Maybe you are like me and know your need to turn to God first and always. As we remember how dearly loved we are by God may we make intentional efforts this week to rely first on God in all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, I know no one loves me like you do. No one has good plans for me like you do. May the Spirit remind me of these things over and over as I seek to follow Jesus more closely. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Verse 10: “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan’! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'”.

After forty days of prayer and fasting Jesus is tempted by Satan. The tempting begins with the most immediate need: food. Not having eaten for a long time, Satan goes after the apparent weakness. We too face these attacks in our lives. For those living with hardships it can be easy to question God about how he is providing for food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. For those a little better off the new car or new home can be the provision that Satan dangles in front of the eyes. For some they may ask God why they only have a net worth of $3,000,000. Few are immune to the lures of want and greed. Contentment can be an elusive target.

Failing at the first attempt, Satan turns to testing Jesus’ relationship with God. Satan places Jesus in a position to throw himself off the tower. Let’s see if God will rescue you, Jesus. To turn away this temptation Jesus reminds Satan that we are not to test God. But oh how we can test God. Maybe it is with the crazy physical things we do. It could be reckless living or excessive consumption. It could be willful disobedience to see if God really loves us. At times this can also manifest itself in times of trial or grief. We ask or wonder why we are going through something; we wonder why it goes on and on. These thoughts are testing God or questioning God’s love for us, his plans for our lives.

When this does not work either, Satan offers Jesus the supreme enticement: power. Some crave all-out, total power over all aspects of life. Some just like to be in control of their own lives and decisions. Most of us fall somewhere in between. The lengths we will go to to attain or maintain our desired level of power can vary, but too often we can rationalize away whatever we seem necessary to reach that goal. Along the way we can bow down to any number of idols or false gods. In each case we are ultimately choosing to put self and our will ahead of God and his will. Jesus knew the only correct order: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.

The Christian journey is not easy. Satan is ever at work. To stay the course requires obedience, faith, and trust in God alone. May God ever be our companion on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you and your Spirit were with Jesus as he faced temptations, so too be with me. I am weak and Satan seems to know the chinks in my armor. Stand guard in those places, Lord. Be my shield and defender as I work to die to those sins. Build up my hope and faith in you alone. Amen.


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6: 4-8

Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”?

Our passage today begins with God reminding the people of all that God has recently done for them. God gave them leaders and brought them out of slavery. God guided them to the promised land, performing righteous act after righteous act all along the way. How could the people be so disconnected from a God that has shown them so much love? Yet if we took a few minutes to reflect on how God has led us, guided us, blessed us, forgiven us, rescued us… we too might be a bit ashamed of how disconnected we can be from God for periods or even seasons in our lives.

Micah then asks an important, self-reflective question. In verse six he asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”? If we more frequently asked this question, we would be connected to God more of our lives. Micah goes on to ask if God really desires burnt offerings of calves or rams or if God really needs thank offerings equivalent to rivers of oil. Micah even wonders if the sacrifice of the firstborn child would cleanse the sin of his soul. Our questions are a little different but come from the same place. Is it not enough God that I’ve been to church two out of four Sundays most months? Is it not enough that I gave to the church some of what I had left at the end of the month? Didn’t I check off enough boxes to be blessed by you, O God?! The people of Micah’s day were going through the motions of being God’s people. They were all about doing.

In verse eight Micah reminds them and us of what God desires: “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God”. These are ways of being. These are ways of the heart. When we are people of justice, mercy, and humility, we are closely connected to the core of who God is. May we be people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and with our fellow humans. May it always be so.

Prayer: Father God, in all I do and say and think, help me to do it justly. In all I do and say and think, help me to lead with mercy. In all I do and say and think, help me to walk humbly, elevating you and others far above self. Draw me to you, O God. Amen.


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Light in the Darkness

Reading: Isaiah 9: 1-2

Verse 1: “In the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles”.

We have all experienced times of isolation and darkness. These can be caused by an illness. For example, when the flu or other sickness drags on and on, we reach a point that feels like we’ve been sick forever. Isolation or darkness can also be caused by mother nature. A fierce winter snowstorm can leave us stuck in the house for a number of days. Soon enough we begin to feel closed in upon and cut off from the rest of the world. In these and other similar experiences, we long to be reconnected with others, to be freed from that which binds us. In this sense we can relate to Zebulun and Naphtali, the two lands that Isaiah writes to in our passage today.

These two tribes were conquered and have been living under a foreign power’s oppression for many years. It has been so long that they feel like this is just life. Their time of isolation and darkness has gone on for generations. Many of the people have given up hope for a different tomorrow, slowly coming to accept this situation as the new normal. Isaiah indicates that this situation was God’s way of humbling these two tribes. It is into this situation that Isaiah brings today’s words of hope.

The passage opens with this declaration: “there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress”. The oppression will not be forever. Isaiah continues with words of hope, adding, “in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles”. The time is not right now but it is coming. God has a plan to rescue and restore Zebulun and Naphtali. And not only these two tribes but the Gentiles as well. In verse two Isaiah goes on to write, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. In the future the light will dawn. They are, in fact, a long way from the end of the tunnel – 700 years. But there is hope now because there is light at the end of the tunnel.

We too can claim this hope and promise as well as helping others claim it as well. Isaiah speaks of a God who will not allow suffering to be endless. According to God’s plan, all things will be made new. In the interim, we are promised life abundant. We will suffer and feel isolation and darkness at times. This is unavoidable in our earthly life. But the light is close. God’s love never fails. The Spirit’s presence is always with us – we are never alone. We can lean into God, trusting in his plans, holding to the light and love of Jesus. We know the great light. May we cling to Jesus every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my strength and my shield, my light and my hope. In all times, but especially in the hard times, remind me over and over of your love and care. Help me to be these things to people walking in isolation and darkness, that they might get a glimpse of you. Amen.