pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Shout for Joy

Reading: Psalm 98

Verse 1: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things”.

Photo credit: Dan de Almeida

Psalm 98 is a song of praise and worship that includes all of creation. The focus of the praise and worship centers on the gift of salvation – God’s most wonderful, marvelous thing. The Psalm points to the salvation worked by God’s “right hand” – Jesus Christ. Salvation was made known and realized through the life and sacrifice of Jesus. As love and righteousness lived out, the Lord Jesus Christ began the redemption and salvation of all of creation.

Because God’s salvation will culminate in the restoration of all things, creation itself joins in the praise and worship. Beginning in verse seven the sea and everything in it resounds with praise. The rivers “clap”, making a joyful noise as they flow towards the sea. The mountains raise a song of praise too. The earth knows what the salvation of the Lord means for all of the created world: new life!

New life is offered to us as well. The salvation of the Lord restores and renews us day by day as well as opening the way to eternal life in God’s new kingdom. While creation awaits that coming day, we experience salvation daily. The sea, rivers, mountains, and all of creation long for the day when the Lord “will judge the world in righteousness”. As followers of Jesus Christ we do not wait – his mercies are new every morning and his compassion never fails (Lamentations 3: 22-23). For this gift of salvation, for this amazing love, what is our response? May we follow the lead of the psalmist! May we “shout for Joy to the Lord”. May all of creation hear our song of praise today!

Prayer: Lord God, just as the rains have fallen, bringing new life to the creation, so too do your mercies rain down on my life, bringing wholeness. Just as the sun springs forth new life in the created world, so too does your Son bring new life in my heart. May all I say and do today reflect my joy and thanksgiving for your love. Amen.


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Testing the Lord

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-4

Verse 2: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”?

Somewhere along the line I once heard that it takes ten positives to overcome one negative. For example, at a dinner party I would need to receive ten positive comments to balance out or get past one negative comment. While the 10:1 ratio varies from person to person, it does illustrate the power of our words. Kind words build others up and unkind words tear others down. As followers of the Lord of love, we need to be speakers of kindness and love.

As the Israelites continue on their journey in the desert they camp at Rephidim, near Horeb. There was no water there so the people begin to quarrel with Moses. The whole conversation is a familiar refrain. We can read this into Moses’ words as he responds to their quarreling by saying, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”? Moses is really questioning their trust in God. Do the people still not trust that God is in control and that God loves them? How many signs must you see? Clearly they have forgotten the parting of the sea and the bitter water becoming good and the quail and manna from heaven. All that God has done for them – it is now like none of that happened.

At that hypothetical dinner party the guests could rave about the appetizers and the starter salad, about the main dish and various sides, and so on. It is all wonderful until the “I didn’t like the ___” comes. All else is forgotten like it was never said. We are like this with God too. Our faith life can be great. Our daily time with God and our worship can lead us to feel that our faith is strong and that our relationship with God is really solid. We feel loved and we know our place as a child of God. And then something negative happens or a challenge arises. It doesn’t even have to rise to the level of losing a job or a loved one. It can be a smaller thing – like someone else getting the promotion or not making the team. Suddenly we are questioning God and his love and care for us. We quickly forget all the other blessings and ask, “Why all these good days, only to endure this”? Oh, how we too must test the Lord our God at times.

In those moments, may the Holy Spirit remind us of God’s abiding and deep love for each of us. May we trust that the sea will part, that the water will come from the rock, that God will provide. In faith may we walk with the Lord day by day. Amen.


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Vital and Connected

Reading: Psalm 114

Verse 7: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob”.

Psalm 114, like most of the Bible, tells a story. Today’s Psalm is but one part of the story of Israel. Other parts of the Bible tell other stories as well. For example, the Gospels tell the story of Jesus Christ. For Christians, this is also part of God’s story. From Genesis through Revelation the Bible tells story after story that illustrates God’s love for humanity and for all of creation.

Part of Psalm 114 connects to creation. The psalmist sees creation as part of the story. In verses five and six the psalmist poses the question of why the sea, river, mountains, and hills moved as they did. There is a connection to the created world here in Psalm 114 that we mostly miss with our modern eyes and ears. Yes, you or I might sense God’s power in a good thunderstorm or recognize God’s beauty in a stunning sunrise or sunset. But we do not see or understand these things as rooted in God, as responding to God, as seeking to please God. We see them as things controlled by or manipulated by God, not as things in relationship with their creator. Their “life” is in and through God’s hands. Imagine our world if we saw the created world more as the psalmist and people of Israel saw the world.

From this perspective, and from God’s perspective, the sea, river, mountains, hills, rocks… are as much a part of the story as the people who walked through the waters or those who drank from the rock. This morning I also wonder who different our world would be if we truly saw all of humanity this same way. What if we truly heard one another’s stories as part of our own story, as a part of who we are? The creator of all the universe sees all people and all of creation al vitally connected together. Imagine if we saw and heard others from varied cultures, places, races, neighborhoods… as being vital and critically connected part of who and what we are. Perhaps then we would more fully live out the command that is so prevalent in the story of God: love your neighbor as yourself. May it be so.

Prayer: God of all, help me to better understand and see and feel all of my connections with what you have created, with what is good. Guide me to live well alongside both my neighbors and the created world around me. In doing so, may I better live out your love. Amen.


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Your Presence, Lord

Reading: Psalm 114

Verse 3: “The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains skipped like rams”.

Psalm 114 is a song of remembrance that would be sung every year at Passover. It is like “Silent Night” for Christians – sung every year at Christmas Eve as worship concludes, filling the sanctuary with candlelight. Psalm 114 is a song of freedom, of God’s provision and power and might, of faith leading to the impossible, and of God’s presence. It is a song that reminds us about our relationship with God.

Almost from the moment that Moses returned to Egypt to face Pharaoh, God provided signs of his power and might. The plagues were the first signs – relatively small at first, but growing in power until the culmination with the death of the firstborn. This last plague occurred the night of the first Passover, when Israel was spared and protected by the blood of the lamb. This plague led to Pharaoh releasing the Israelites. As they went, God went with them. God dwelled daily with the people in the pillars of cloud and fire. Israel became God’s dominion.

In verse three we read, “The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains skipped like rams”. These awesome and mighty demonstrations reveal God’s absolute power. The sea, the river, the mountains – the immovable – all behave according to God’s command. Have you ever tried to hold back water, to use your hands to stop a flow or water? It seems through, it finds the smallest cracks, it seems to keep coming from nowhere. And not once, but twice, the people of God walk through on dry ground. God did not just stop most of the water so only their feet got wet or just a little muddy – it was dry ground.

The Psalm reminds us that anything is possible with God. Even the mountains move and tremble at God’s command, at his presence. Thousands of years later, as we reflect on these acts of God, let me remind you that God is the same God. God still remains present in powerful and mighty ways. God still moves the mountains in our lives and continues to stop up the tears of sorrow and pain with his love. God still walks with us through the valleys and up to the mountain top once in a while. This day may we each sing a song of rejoicing and remembering as we bow in the presence of the living and eternal God.

Prayer: Living God, this morning I raise a hallelujah, I whisper a song of praise. My heart is full as I think back to those moments in your presence, to those times when I could tangibly feel you there with me. I exult your holy name as I rest in your love for me. Hallelujah! Amen.


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Perfect Love

Reading: Exodus 14: 19-22

Verses 21-22: “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground”.

The Passover had been the final miracle before the Israelites packed in haste and fled Egypt. Amidst Egyptian cries of grief and heartbreak the people of God left behind slavery and oppression. Their mighty and powerful God has intervened and freedom lay ahead. After 430 years in Egypt about two million Israelites began a journey to their new home. After just a short time, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and his army heads out to bring the Israelites back. Camped up against the sea, they are filled with fear as Pharaoh’s army approaches.

As we pick up the story today, God acts quickly to protect his people as the pillars of cloud and fire both move between the Israelites and the Egyptians, creating a barrier neither will cross. Moses stretches out his hand and God drives back the waters of the sea. In verses 21 and 22 we read, “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground”. As the people of God walked through on dry ground, a wall of water stood on either side. Talk about seeing God’s power up close and personal!

This image brings up two things for me. The first is the song “No Longer Slaves” by Bethel Music. In the bridge they sing, “You split the sea so I could walk right through it, my fears were drowned in perfect love”. It is such a beautiful lyric. The second thing I am reminded of are the many ways that God has acted in powerful and mighty ways in my life and in the lives of people I know. God has a habit of doing what he did that day in the desert – of entering our fear and doubt and worry, of walking with us to a place of safety, and of protecting us as we journey. God’s perfect love does indeed surround us and assured us of his presence. As you consider how and when our powerful God has intervened in your life, please take a moment or two to recall when God has led you through. Rejoice and thank God for his perfect love.

Prayer: Lord God, your power is amazing. Thank you for the times when you have provided a way when I could not see one. Thank you for the times when you led me, even though I did not think I could step forward. Thank you for your abiding and perfect love. Amen.


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Before Our God

Reading: Revelation 5: 13-14

Verse 13: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing”.

Today the congregation swells! All the angels are joined by all the creatures of the earth. Verse 13 indicates that it is all of the living creatures on, under, and in the earth and sea. That is a big congregation. I wonder if they tried singing in a round with the angels in heaven.

The song is almost the same as the one the angels sang in verse 12. It acknowledges the Lamb on the throne who is worthy and receives praise, honor, glory, and power, for ever and ever. In these words there is a reverence and an awe. It is pure worship of the Lord. After the “Amen” is said, the elders fall down and worship. In my mind this looks and feels a lot like prayer. They fall to the ground and worship the Lord in prayer.

When praying, we often teach our children to bow their heads and to fold their hands. The idea or practice of bowing our head is a sign of respect – it is found in many cultures and religions. Often it is also a sign of someone else’s higher position or status. This is all appropriate for God. Folding our hands can represent waiting, being patient for God to be present, to answer, to speak. Some pray with hands open, palms turned towards heaven. This posture indicates a willingness to receive what God has to offer – being open to God’s possibilities. To pray and turn the palms towards the earth represents allowing the things of the world to fall away and the releasing of our sins, worries…

In our passage today the elders fall down to worship. We do not know if it was to their knees or if it was all the way to the ground, lying prostrate. These physical postures also demonstrate respect for God but also add an element of surrender. At times our prayer life can take on these postures. It is good for our souls to kneel before the Lord or even to lie down on the ground as we pray. In prayer today, may we kneel or lie before the Lord our God and join with all the angels in heaven as we worship our Lord and King!

Prayer: Jesus, in submission I bow. In humble surrender, I kneel before you now, acknowledging that you are King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thank you for being my King and my Lord. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Amen.


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Worthy, Worthy

Reading: Revelation 5: 11-14

Verse 12: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain…”

The angels gather around the throne to praise the Lord Jesus Christ. The large numbers indicate a sea of faces gathered around the throne – people as far as the eye can see. All of them are praising the Lord. They sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain…”. They acknowledge that Jesus was slain – killed, crucified, murdered on the cross. As the Lamb, Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins. Whereas God had previously been the one who required us to bring sacrifices to atone for our sins, now it is God who brings the sacrifice to pay the price, once for all.

The host of heaven goes on to sing of what the Lamb is worthy to receive. The risen Lord receives power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise. As He sits on the throne, He receives all of this from His Father God and from those gathered around Him in worship. I hope to one day be in that host. I cannot imagine what it will be like to gather with such a multitude to be in the presence of and to worship our Lord and Savior.

As beautiful as this image is, though, it is equally pleasing to God when one on earth worships Him. One lost in worship on the couch or out for a walk or atop the mountain or wherever also brings much joy to our God in heaven. We simply cannot wait until we get to heaven to be lost in love with our Jesus. Our lives must be about how we love and worship the One on the throne. There are a myriad of ways that we can bring honor and glory and praise to our King. It can be in worship but it can also be in serving the church and one another, in caring for the needs of those around us, in acts of sacrificial giving… In all the ways we can, may we worship the Lord today.

Prayer: Jesus, you are worthy of my praise and worship. Because of who you were, who you are, and who you will be, none other is worthy of my love and service. This day and every day, may I follow you well, seeking to share your love with a world in need. Amen.


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Love, Righteousness, Justice

Reading: Psalm 36: 5-10

Verse 5: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies”.

Today’s passage is a song of praise. If you did not catch that – read it again. David is praising God for His presence, for His love, for His blessings. Verse 5 reads, “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies”. Perhaps you too can hear Mac Powell’s deep voice singing this verse and the next. They are the opening lines to the song, “Your Love, O Lord”.

When we consider the imagery that David used we begin to get an understanding of the size or quantity of God’s love… It is not an XL or even XXL kind of love… It is a love that stretched all the way up to the heavens. That is a long way. There are some stars that we can see at night that are really far away. The distance that we can see increases greatly with a huge telescope. Yet even with the biggest telescope ever built, there will still be heavens beyond what we can see. Think about that in thinking about how far God’s love reaches. Then we are just beginning to comprehend how big God’s love really is.

David compares God’s righteousness to the mighty mountains and God’s justice to the depths of the sea. The mountains are majestic and strong and beautiful and seem to stand forever. Such is the start of understanding God’s righteousness. The depth of the sea is in fact greater than the highest mountain on earth. To me this says that justice matters to God. A lot. Yet even then I can only start to comprehend God’s desire for justice.

I am awed by the power and might of God illustrated in these comparisons with the natural world. They are good visuals to begin to think about how wide and high and deep are God’s love, righteousness, and justice. It is a love, righteousness, and justice for you and for me. Wow.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for humbling me this morning. This day may I praise your name for your love, righteousness, and justice. Amen.


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Praise

Reading: Psalm 104: 1-9, 24, 35c

Verse 24: “How many are your works, O Lord! The Earth is full of your creatures”.

Is it on a mountain top? Is it by a lake or quiet stream? Is it along the seashore or on a winding path in the woods? Is it on the porch as the sun sets or rises? Is it at the picture window as the lightning flashes? Is it in the garden, fresh with the smell of tilled earth? Where is it in creation that you sense God’s presence?

The Psalm today speaks of the works of God in the created world. In verses 1-9 we get a great sense of God’s power and majesty. Our world is an amazing place. We notice this when we slow down enough to be still for a few moments. We notice this when we are intentional about seeking God in His created world. When we do, we connect to these words we find in verse 24: “How many are your works, O Lord! The Earth is full of your creatures”.

Can we slow down the pace at which we live our lives enough to connect to the Creator in creation? It is a choice we must make. Today, may we find a few minutes to just soak in God’s handiwork. And then, in that time communing with God, may we join the psalmist in declaring, “Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord”.

God, today help me to be still. Calm all within so that I can know you more. In the voices of the birds, in the motion if the breeze, on the broken sidewalks, may my soul be still. In the stillness, draw me in, O God. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 84: 8-12

Verse 10: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”.

The pilgrims are on their way to Jerusalem! There is joy in where they are headed. They are going to be close to the God they love. As today’s passage opens, the people are petitioning God to hear and listen with favor to their prayers. This joy on the journey, this sense of anticipation – is it what we have when we walk out the door as we head to church?

For the pilgrims, the joy is not just in the journey. Being there is God’s house is really the point. Verse ten illustrates the value placed on being in the sanctuary: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. There is delight found in the place of the Lord. There is a sense of peace and strength in God’s house. Do we reflect this attitude on Sunday mornings? If we feel blessed to be in worship, then yes we do!

The psalmist also names the popular alternative. One can choose God or one can choose not to. Instead, one can live a wicked life. This is a life centered on self, filled with gluttony and greed and the pleasures of the flesh. The ego dominates and shows itself in pride and jealousy and anger. The psalmist would rather be one day with God than to spend a thousand days in the tents of the wicked. Yet those tents are crowded. The things of the world look good to those who do not know God. To the faithful, yes, they are temptations.

If we were to modernize the Psalm, what would we replace the tents of the wicked with? Today, for some, it is the cathedral of green pastures and little white balls. For others it is the sea of peaceful waters and sharp hooks. Still others prefer the sense of security and comfort found in the great comforter and soft pillow. Yes, these things do have their appeal. Yes, one sure can spend their days someplace other than in God’s courts. It is a choice.

The Psalm closes with this line: “O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you”. The world tells us to trust in ourselves, in our possessions, in our titles. But a thousand days of these things is not worth one day in the courts of the Lord. May we trust in the Lord. May we walk blameless today with our God. May we find the Almighty’s favor. Amen and amen.