pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Arise, Beloved

Reading: Song of Songs 2: 8-13

Verse 10: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

The Song of Songs is about love. On the literal level it is the story of young love, of courtship, of desire. In today’s six verses we see the beloved, the young woman, being sought by her lover. Twice in today’s passage he calls out, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. The earth itself is coming to life as spring begins. The flowers and vines are blossoming, the doves coo, the figs begin to form. Life is bursting all around. The two lovers can sense the energy in creation and want to be a part of that.

In the metaphorical sense, the Song of Songs is the story of how God seeks to be in relationship with us. This relationship is also built upon love. God’s love is not the “I love my brother” kind of love from childhood. It is not the pinky swear “I’ll do anything for my BFF” kind of adolescent love. It is not even the wild and passionate love of two twenty somethings who have fallen madly in love. Even this love pales in comparison to the love that God desires to lavish upon us. God’s love is unconditional, unfailing, unending. The best of human love is conditional, fickle, wavering.

God pursues us like the young man pursues his love. God leaps the mountains, walks across the seas, peers through any opening that he can find, calling out to each of us, his beloved. Today, be aware of how God is calling out to you, seeking to deepen your relationship with him. Will you arise and go with God?

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, make me aware of each way that you reach out to me today. Create in me a sensitive heart, a willing heart. Help me to take in and to pour out your love this day. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 31: 9-16

Verse 16: “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love”.

The section of Psalm 31 that we read today begins with David in a place of suffering. In verse nine he pleads with God: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress”. Most of us have prayed a similar prayer many times in our lives, some more than they can count. All of us have our share of trials and sufferings in life. In this current time in our world and nation, a lot more people are crying out as David does in the verse.

In the next four verses, ten through thirteen, David shares the sources of his distress. Perhaps we have not or are currently not struggling with the same list as David shares here, but that does not make our struggle any less. As we name our struggles or the sources of our suffering or trial, let us ask God to take that up, to bring us relief, to remove that from your life. As you do so, read again the words in verse fourteen: “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, you are my God”. Trust in the God who loves you.

David closes with this powerful request: “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love”. May the Lord our God shine his face upon you. May the Lord our God shower you in his unfailing love.

Prayer: Lord God, rain down that love today. Pour out your affections on me. Let me walk in your love today. Amen.


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The Beautiful Cycle

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 7: “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”.

In verses five and six the psalmist practices something that can be difficult for many of us in the modern world: he waits. The psalmist waits, his soul waits. And he waits with hope! He trusts in God’s word and that brings him hope. It can be harder to wait for the Lord’s word or voice during a time of darkness or grief or suffering. This is what the psalmist might be referring to in verse six, where the watchmen wait for the morning. Envision it: after a long night on watch they long for the first rays to peak up over the horizon, bringing light to the long darkness. Is that not what it feels like during those times when we have been stuck in the valley and we long to see and feel light and love again?

Turning to verse seven we find much encouragement. It reads, “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”. We too can choose to hope in God because the two gifts mentioned by the psalmist are fully ours as well: unfailing love and full redemption. In fact, the two are very much connected. God’s love for you and me leads to the gift of redemption. In love God forgives all that we confess and repent of, welcoming us back into that unfailing love. It is a beautiful cycle to be caught up in. For this, today we shout: thanks be to God!

Prayer: God, your perfection is so much greater than my failures and my imperfection. Yet your love bridges the gap and then draws me back across the bridge, back into your love. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 32

Verse 1: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered”.

When we confess our sins to the Lord and seek to earnestly repent of them, we are washed clean, made new once again. This is what David is writing about in the opening verses of Psalm 32. In verse 1 he writes, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered”. When we walk honestly with the Lord we are blessed.

But we do not always walk honestly and righteously. Sometimes we sin. We are called to confess and repent whenever we feel the conviction of our sin. But we do not always do that. Sometimes we tell ourselves that God doesn’t really know. Sometimes we can try and justify our sins. David tries to hide from God. In verse 3 he writes, “when I kept silent… my bones wasted away”. He felt God’s “heavy hand” upon him and his strength was gone. We have all been there, drained by the efforts to keep up our charade. We know that we are sinning and we know that we need to confess and repent, but we just cannot quite get there. The power of sin is just a bit too much.

With renewed trust and confidence in God’s love, David pushes through. In verse 5 he writes, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you”. David confessed and knew God’s love and mercy: “you forgave the guilt of my sin”. He confessed and was made right with God. David encourages all to pray to God so that they can experience what he did: protection and presence. In verse 8 we read about this as God instructs and teaches, counsels and watches over. We will be surrounded by God’s love.

This Psalm is a great reminder to us. If we are struggling with a sin in our life, it reminds us that life is better when we are honest with God. When we confess and repent, the guilt and shame fall away and we are restored into God’s presence, protection, and peace. Living honestly, not having to hide, is liberating and joyful and leads us to be glad and to sing of God’s love. Psalm 32 is also a great passage to share with those we know who are stuck in their sin. If offers a view of the Lord’s “unfailing love” that we experience when we are made right with God and it offers a view of the life of joy and peace and security we find when we walk with the Lord. Thanks be to God for His unfailing love for all people!

Prayer: Lord, when I find myself in sin and feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, help me to quickly confess, repent, and turn back to you. When I don’t quite see my sin as sin, reveal it to me by the same power of your Holy Spirit. Give me compassion and love and gentleness when I seek to help another to be freed from their sins. Let your unfailing love shine through. May all I do and say and think reveal your unfailing love to a world in need. Amen.


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Our God

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse Fourteen: “For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end”.

For many years the Jewish people found joy in the city of David. It was the place that God called home. It was the place of safety and refuge in times if war. Situated high upon the hill it offered both a commanding view and a strategic military advantage. In fact, we read that for enemy kings, just seeing Jerusalem brought terror and trembling.

As a people, the Israelites saw all of this as God’s handiwork and of His presence with the chosen people. Because it is the city of God, they feel like Jerusalem will the there, as it is, “secure forever”. The city is also the home of the temple – God’s home. In the temple the people can meditate on God’s unfailing love and can be in God’s presence. For many people of faith today, this is how we feel about and in our places of worship. The sanctuary is not just another room in a building we call a church or synagogue or mosque. It is the space where we sense God’s presence with us.

The psalmist closes with two encouragements. First, to “walk about Zion”. For the reader, this was Jerusalem. For us, where is our Zion? Where is that place that you feel most connected to God? Spend some time there today or this week. Sit or stand or walk about in that space, feeling and being in God’s presence. The second encouragement is to tell the next generation. We learn best by doing. Bring a child or a friend to your Zion. Allow them to experience what you experience there. When we take the time to enter into God’s holiness, into God’s presence, we begin to know and feel as the psalmist did when he wrote, “For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end”. May this be our God too.


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Full Hope

Reading: Psalm 130: 5-8

Verse Seven: “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption”.

Today’s passage centers around waiting. For most of us, waiting is hard. Even the most mundane waiting is hard. After only a few minutes in what we feel is a slow moving check-out line, we are looking left and right to see if there is a faster line. As the light turns green we wait at least a nanosecond before honking at the stationary driver in front of us. We live in an instant gratification, get it done yesterday world. It is hard to wait.

The psalmist writes, “I waited for the Lord, my soul waits”. I do not read any anxiousness or any agitation in this statement. For the psalmist it seems normal to wait for the Lord. The second half of this verse explains why: “in His Word I put my hope”. The Word of the Lord is steadfast and true. It revives the soul. It is sweeter than pure honey. These are but a few of the reasons that we too should put our hope in God’s Word.

As the Psalm continues, watchmen wait for the morning. They stand atop the Wall steadfastly waiting for the sun to peek up over the horizon. They wait with patience and hope. Although they can do nothing to hasten the sun’s rising, they wait trusting that the sun will rise another day. It is this same trust that we are called to have in the Lord. God is as faithful as the sun rising each day.

Verse Seven reads, “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption”. God’s love is an unfailing love. It is a love that always endures and always gives. It is a love that offers mercy and forgiveness that we do not deserve, given without price. In this love we do find full redemption. In this love we are made new every morning. In this love we are reconciled to the Lord over and over and over. This is a love that we can trust. It is a love that we can place our hope in. Thanks be to God for this love and hope.


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Love and Redemption

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 7: Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption.

Central to Psalm 130 are God’s unfailing love and His endless mercy.  These two characteristics of God are essential to our faith as well.  As the psalmist does, so too must we cry out to God in order to experience and receive His love and mercy.  It is in prayer that we seek these things.  It is through experiencing them in our lives that our relationship with God deepens.

The psalmist first cries out for forgiveness.  In repenting of our sins we come to realize that God offers forgiveness over and over and over.  The fact that no records are kept indicates the unlimited nature of God’s mercy.  It is new every moment.  In experiencing this is our relationship with God, it becomes a part of who we are and it becomes a practice in our lives.  We pray for this each time we pray, “…And forgive us our trespasses (or debts)…”

The psalmist also writes about the next step God takes.  Not only does God forgive us our transgressions, but also redeems us.  The price or cost of our sins is paid for by God.  We do not have to offer up a dove or a young goat.  We do not have to do anything – God simply redeems us through the power of Jesus’ blood.  Like His mercies being new every morning, we too are made new – pure and holy – through His redemption.  We also take this practice and make it part of our life.  We too love one another in this model, keeping no record of wrongs, wiping the slate clean, forgiving 70 times 7 times.

The key to living in God’s unfailing love and full redemption is our response.  Do we simply enjoy these blessings or do we go forth into the world to share them with others?  As we experience these two great characteristics of God, may we go forth with God’s character as our character, extending love and mercy and forgiveness and redemption to all we meet.  In this way, others will be drawn to the source of these things in us.


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Restoring a Sinner

Reading: Psalm 85

The psalmist expresses a cycle that is common to us all.  The people of Israel sinned and found God’s forgiveness.  Time passed and they sinned again.  The writer expresses the need for God to forgive the people once again.  The psalmist calls for God’s unfailing love to once again yield mercy and grace.  The writer reminds themselves and God that God promises peace to His people.  The the writer again requests salvation from God.

It is a cycle we often repeat as well.  Earlier in one’s Christian walk, the cycle is repeated more often but throughout life we cycle through the sin-repentance-forgiveness pattern over and over.  Being human, frail and weak as we are, we will fall into sin.  Yet God, being unfailing love and unending grace, responds over and over again with forgiveness and an invitation back into right relationship with Him.

As we look back over our journey of faith we can identify times when we came to realize that we had been sinning.  It was not obvious to us before we reached a certain maturity level in our faith.  As we continue to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ we come to junctures where we realize that what we were doing was really gossip or being jealous or lust or …  What was before simply part of who we are is one day seen as sin.  So we repent and think ‘not again’ as we are now aware that a certain behavior was sinful.  But like most sins, this one will return again.  Satan knows our weak spots and will continue to hammer away at them for a while.

As we mature in our faith and our relationship with Christ grows stronger, the time between recurrences of a sin will lengthen out.  And being fully human, we know that we may fall back into that sin once in a while.  But as we do mature, we recognize it sooner and come to a place where we stop at the temptation to gossip or whatever.  And then we begin to wrestle with other sins in our lives!

Into our constant battle with sin, into our human weakness, steps God’s love and grace.  God’s love and grace are far greater than our sin will ever be.  It is so great that nothing in all of creation is able to separate us from the love of God.  May we ever be thankful for God’s unfailing love and unending grace that always restores a sinner like me back to the true and loving relationship that is life itself.


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Rooted

Reading: Psalm 52

David is in the midst of a trial in Psalm 52.  King Saul has become crazed with jealousy and paranoia and is pursuing David to kill him.  David is on the run for his life.  He knows in his heart that he is in the ‘right’ and that God is with him, yet he faces this trial.  Despite being physically on the move, David states that he is like “an olive tree flourishing in the house of God”.  In the midst of this crazy pursuit by Saul, David remains rooted in his faith in the God he loves.

In the song “Always”, artist Kristian Stanfill sings, “My foes are many, they rise against me, I will hold my ground”.  In our life we can often relate to David’s trial and to the thoughts expressed in this song.  At times we can feel beset on all sides.  In these moments it can be easy or tempting to pull up the roots we have in God and to turn to other means to deal with the fear or pain or doubt or whatever else we are facing.

David wrote, “I will trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever”.  The songs says, “I will not fear, His promise is true, my God will come through always, always”.  In both we find the blessed assurance that God will always live us and will always be there for us.  For our part, we must stay rooted in God.

It can be hard to do this.  The song goes on to day, “Trouble surrounds me, chaos abounding, I will test in You”.  It is a faith deeply rooted in God that can rest in Him in the midst of a trial.  To be deeply rooted requires daily watering and fertilizing.  This day may we water our faith in the Word of God and allow it to permeate our faith, to fertilize it as its message sinks deep down into our soul and strengthens our faith.  May we do this day by day do that when the winds and rain of life come, our faith will be deeply rooted on the true foundation, Jesus Christ.