pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Relationship Remembered

Reading: Psalm 132: 1-9

Verses 1 and 2: “O Lord, remember David… He swore an oath to the Lord.”

Photo credit: Joshua Eckstein

Today’s Psalm is about relationship. God remembers David and David remembers God. Relationship is always about connection, history, experience. So too is faith. The Bible’s key movements all center around relationship. Sometimes the movement is away from God as the people forget the relationship. The Israelites wander over and over, worshipping idols or forgetting who and whose they were as they instead chose to live like the world around them. Each of these many instances is followed by a return to right relationship with God. The Biblical narrative continually follows this cycle of disobedience and reconciliation. Even though the Bible was completed in the first century our story and humanity’s story continues to follow this cycle.

Because our relationship with God has an ebb and flow to it, our relationship is often built around remembering. Throughout the Bible we hear about remembering the covenants and commands, about remembering the stories of God’s love and faithfulness, about remembering the words and example of Jesus Christ. Remembering draws us back into relationship. It is in relationship that we experience God’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, restoration, redemption… When we live outside of relationship we are far from these things of God.

In the Psalm relationship is remembered and kindled in the house of the Lord. There, in God’s “dwelling place” one is able to “worship at his footstool.” In the sanctuary we meet God’s presence and we reconnect; there we renew and refresh our relationship with God. There we are reminded of his word. There we sing with joy God’s praises. There the Lord joins with us as we once again are “clothed with righteousness.” This day may we remember the Lord our God, our salvation and our hope. Tomorrow may we go up to the house of the Lord, joining with the community of faith to worship the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, may I enter your presence with praise and thanksgiving. May I celebrate your love today. In response may you know my love as I enter your holy sanctuary. 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.


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He Will Gather

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 7-14

Verse 10: “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”.

Our passage from Jeremiah feels very relevant for the time in which we live. It begins with the Lord inviting the faithful to “sing with joy” and to “make your praises heard”. Then, God reveals what they are to sing: “O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel”. It would maybe seem odd to sing with joy when the chosen people are but a remnant, a fraction of what they once were. But God has plans to restore them, to bless them once again. In verse eight God tells the Israelites that he will gather them “from the ends of the earth”. In fact, a “great throng” will be gathered back together. Sometimes, for me, this is what church feels like in these COVID times. We feel scattered. Just a remnant gathers. I, perhaps we, long for the Lord to regather the flock, to end this exile.

Verse nine brings a bit of reality. God tells them that they will “come with weeping” and that they will pray as they return. The children of God will weep tears of joy as they come home, as they are finally where they belong. I remember well the tears of joy and the emotions that stirred within me back in August when the church regathered in the sanctuary for the first time in what felt like forever. Once again we have been isolated, in exile if you will. It feels like we might gather again soon, ending the online only of December. I do not believe that I will be alone in my tears of joy when the people of God are once again brought back home.

In verse ten we read, “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”. The promise was kept – God gathered Israel from their places of exile. God remained faithful and lovingly watched over his people Israel. God redeemed them and made them strong again. God was faithful. The people’s mourning was turned into gladness. Their sorrow was replaced with joy and comfort. The good shepherd remains faithful. The Lord will gather the church; he will lead us to sing for joy as we make our praises heard. God is good. We await the day in trust, sure of his love for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, you have always guided and cared for your people. I ask that you continue to lead and guide us as we consider gathering again as your people. Fill us with wisdom, O God. Amen.


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Prepared to Offer Love

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse 4: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name”.

Psalm 100 is such a spirit-lifter! It is all about praising God and rejoicing in God’s goodness and love. The Psalm was written to be sung heading to and in worship. That is what the psalmist means, literally, when he writes, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise”. Enter into the tabernacle, enter into the temple, enter into the sanctuary, enter into the chapel… with thanksgiving and praise. We can all leave “life” behind and enter into that holy space to praise and worship the Lord. It is in that sacred place that we connect to the Holy One. There we are lifted up in spirit and filled with his presence and love. There we are renewed and refreshed. There we are prepared.

The second half of verse four reads, “give thanks to him and praise his name”. Once connected, lifted up, filled, renewed, refreshed, then we are prepared to exit the church to live lives that give thanks to the Lord and that bring praise to his holy name. We do so by living out and pouring out our faith into the world and into the lives of those we encounter. This is the feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty… that we have been reading about in Matthew 25. May we each see and live out the relationship between worship and life, seeking to make Jesus Christ and his love known in all we say and do and think.

Prayer: God of all generations, may my life be a fragrant and pleasing offering to you. May my times of connection ever be times of thanksgiving and praise, filling me to do your will in the world. Amen.


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Our Dwelling Place

Reading: Psalm 90: 1-6

Verse 1: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations”.

Growing up I lived in a few different places – two in South Dakota, two in Virginia, one in Florida, and two in Connecticut. Each place brought new friends and new experiences. From third grade through graduate school Connecticut was home for me. Almost thirty years ago my wife and I moved to South Dakota. We have lived in seven homes in four different communities. Each town has been unique but all have been in South Dakota and this place is now our home. Add in time at college and seminary and I have many more places that have been at least temporary homes. I have found that for me, home is much more than a physical place. It is that, but it is more about those that are there that make it home.

Psalm 90 opens with this great line: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations”. Since Adam drew his first breath, humankind has been invited to be in a personal relationship with God. As our “dwelling place”, no matter where we are physically, we can experience God’s presence. Places like the sanctuary at church may feel like the place we most naturally encounter God, but our places to dwell with God are certainly not limited to our churches. Just as God is “everlasting”, God is also everywhere present. We can turn to God anywhere we are to draw upon his love, strength, care, guidance, comfort…

The last few verses of today’s passage remind us that, as humans, we are temporary. At some point we will all “return to dust”. Compared to God, our own sense of time is so limited. We think 80 or 90 years is a long time. But as the psalmist reminds us, “a thousand years… are like a day” to God. Our earthly lives are so short compared to God’s eternity. Yet, in this we also know that when our physical bodies return to dust, our spirits go on to dwell with God in his eternal presence. Heaven will one day be our forever home. It too will be all about who we are with. There the Lord and his light and love will be our dwelling place. What a glorious day that will be! Until then, may we be his light and love here on earth, bringing a bit of his kingdom to bear on this world.

Prayer: Lord God, you will ever be my God. Eternity is the goal that I press on towards. Here, keep me on the path. Along the way, help me to always be an example of your light and love. Amen.


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Even There

Reading: Psalm 139: 7-10

Verse 10: “Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”.

Even there. Even there God is with us. In the quiet of the sanctuary on a Tuesday morning, God is there. In the excitement of worship on a Sunday morning, God is there. In the prayer on the couch and in the prayer on the walk to work, God is there. As the baby releases its first cry and as the person draws their last breath, God is there. In the spaces where we seek God’s presence and in the times when we try and run as far away as we think possible, God is there.

There is nowhere we can go, no way we can flee fast enough to elude God’s presence. God is in the heavens and in the depths and everywhere in between. God is in the highs and lows of life, just as much as in the regular and ordinary. Even when the psalmist rises early and travels all day to reach the “far side of the sea”, even there God is present. No matter where our there is, we too can say as the psalmist did: “Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”. Our God is present at all times in all places.

God, unlike us, is always steadfast and true, ever unchanging and unfailing. As with all things concerning God, it is so because God loves us. God is love so his constant presence is based on his great love for us, his dear children. God’s constant love is a no-matter-what love that says “I will be there and guide you, even there”.

As we experience this love over and over, we come to trust God more and more. Our faith grows. I would say “trust completely” but that is not our reality on this side of the veil. At times even the strongest faith can buckle. We are weak at moments and Satan is ever at work. Yet then and there – yes, even there – God is with us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, as I look out the window, I sense your presence in the sun creeping up in the sky and in the gentle breeze moving the pine branches. You are always right there – when I think I need you most and when I want you the least. You love me that much. Thank you. Amen.


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Willing

Reading: Psalm 122:1 – “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'”.

Each Sunday many of us live out these words. It is a wonderful and awesome thing when we gather to worship the Lord. There is a peace and a comfort, a majesty and a power, when we gather in the sanctuary to pray and sing and proclaim God’s word. As we are on the edge of Advent, there is an elevated sense of anticipation and even a bump in our level of hospitality. The Advent themes of peace, hope, love, and joy add to the depth of our worship and to the overall experience of the season.

As Thanksgiving looms tomorrow, many of us will be thankful for our church homes, for our church families, and for the many other ways that God blesses us. May we rejoice in these gifts from God! But may our rejoicing also remind us that there are many who go without these this time of year. There are a variety of reasons for this. None are absolute barriers. Our joy and celebration with God can work in two ways. It can elevate their absence in those who do not know or experience these things. Or it can draw them in. As disciples yet living under the great commission to go out into the world, teaching others about Jesus, may we be invitational this sacred time of the year. May we offer radical hospitality, especially to those without a church home and without a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through us, may our friends and neighbors who do not have these blessings feel our love and God’s love drawing them in. May we all be willing.

Prayer: God of all, through me offer words of invitation and welcome, words of hope and belonging. Make our church and the people in it a safe and blessed space and family. May your love flow out, being poured into others today. Amen.


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Praise the Lord

Reading: Psalm 150

Verse 6: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”.

Today’s passage opens and closes with the same line: “Praise the Lord”. In between it speaks first of where: in the sanctuary and in His heavens. Broadly interpreted, the sanctuary is all the places we find God. Yes, it is our church sanctuary, but it is also along the wooded path, by the bass pond, in the hospital room, on the open prairie, at the quiet desk. In between the psalmist speaks second of why we praise. We are to praise God for His acts of power and for His surpassing greatness. Yes, it is for how God sent Jesus as our example and for how God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. But it is also for the safe travels home and for the personal nature of our relationship.

Lastly, in verses 3 through 5, the psalmist speaks of how we are to praise God. He lists the trumpet, harp, lyre, strings, flute, and cymbals as the instruments and he lists dancing as the action. Yes, it is this but also with the organ, keyboard, drums, guitars, and voices. It is also with arms raised up, with hands clapping, with heads bowed, and with hearts open. And it is in prayer as we go for a walk. It is in the conversations with one who is lonely or grieving. There are many, many ways to praise the Lord.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”. We have breath. May we praise the Lord today!

Prayer: Lord God, may all I do and say bring you praise today. May my every breath and action praise the Lord. Amen.


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Do We Glow?

Reading: Exodus 34: 29-35

Verse 29: “… his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord”.

Moses has something none of us will probably ever have – a face to face encounter with God. Each time that Moses goes “up the mountain”, he comes back down and his face glows with God’s presence. Our closest connection in a physical sense would be the times we spent too much time (unprotected) in the sun – our skin glows with a redness that reveals our exposure to the sun’s rays.

Although initially afraid, the leaders and then the people come to understand that it is still safe to be around Moses. The glow reveals a connection to God and to God’s authority. One could not but help to listen a little closer to what this man that has obviously been in God’s presence has to say. You just couldn’t help it.

Even though we do not see God face to face in a physical sense, we can meet God intimately and personally in a very real way. We do not necessarily have to go up a mountain or to any specific place, but for some the location can help. Right now, at my desk in our home office, I feel that this is a God space. I feel it in the sanctuary at church. I feel it in many other spaces and places as well. But the bigger question are these: Do others see that I have been in God’s presence? Because of the time that I spend with God, do others see that evidenced in my life? Do they see the glow?

Moses exited each encounter with God with an obvious glow on his face that told others he had been in the presence of God. Do our hearts cast out a glory and radiance from God so that others can tell we have been in God’s presence? May we glow.

Prayer: God of light, may your radiance shine forth in my life today. May the love of Christ simply be on display in all I say and do and think today, all for your glory. Amen.


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Here I Am!

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

As our passage opens, Isaiah finds himself in God’s presence. God is seated on the throne and seraphs are above God. These 6-winged creatures are calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory”. To add emphasis to this powerful scene, the building shakes and smoke fills the space. I cannot imagine all of what Isaiah felt in those moments – awe, terror, pure joy, amazement? It is a scene of absolute power and might.

There, in that moment, Isaiah realizes how out of place he is. He finds himself in the presence of God and all of heaven. He realizes how unworthy he is to be there. Isaiah utters this confession: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. But instead of condemning him or removing him instantly, God sends a seraph to Isaiah with a burning coal in the tongs. With the coal, the seraph touches Isaiah’s unclean lips and takes away his guilt and atones for his sin. God redeems Isaiah. God prepares Isaiah for what comes next: hearing God’s call.

At times we experience God’s presence. Sometimes it is in the church – sometimes on a Sunday morning in worship, sometimes on a Tuesday afternoon in the stillness. Sometimes it is in the hospital – maybe with parents who have just brought a new life into the world, maybe with a family as they say goodbye and send a loved one on to their new life with God. We can and do experience God in many ways and in many settings. In some if these moments, we too can feel a little of what Isaiah felt – overwhelmed and in awe at the holy privilege that we are part of. I always feel blessed and am humbled by the experience. Once in a while, I can relate to Isaiah’s feeling of being unworthy to be in God’s holy presence that has settled on that place or situation. Yet God remains present to me as well.

No seraph comes with a hot coal, but the Holy Spirit surely leads and guides, assuring me of what I am a part of. Whether the prompting is to offer a scripture or a prayer or just to be present or maybe to give a hug, as the Spirit leads, I say in my heart as Isaiah said with his lips, “Here I am. Send me!”

When we accept our place in God’s presence and we allow God to work in and through us, the power of the Holy Spirit takes charge. When we find ourselves with an opportunity to be sent, to be in partnership with the Holy Spirit, may we trust fully in God’s call, joyously saying, “Here I am. Send me!”

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart, encourage my mind and spirit today so that I may faithfully respond to each call you give. Amen.