pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Yes indeed!

Reading: Psalm 147: 1-11 and 20

Verse 1: “How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him”!

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

Psalm 147 is a Psalm of praise. It encourages us to offer up our praise to God for all that he is to and for us. The psalmist first recounts how God gathered the exiles, healed their broken hearts, and bound up their wounds. God restored Israel to wholeness. God continues to draw in the exiles – us when we wander and the lost when they seek him. God continues to bring healing and wholeness to our bodies and souls. We too have reason to “sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him”!

In the next stanza the psalmist calls for praise and thanksgiving because God provides rain to make the grass grow. The grass provides food for the crops and animals that in turn feed the people. Today many are grateful for the rains and snows that nourish the soil. The bountiful soil produces food for each of us and employment for many. Yes, indeed – praise the Lord! In this way, God sustains the earth just as God “sustains the humble”. Our God draws near to those who draw near to him. His love and mercies sustain us in our times of need. His mighty power and limitless understanding provide all we need in the valleys and in the trials. Yes indeed – let us praise the Lord! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, how good and pleasant it is to praise your holy name. How awesome is your care and provision, how deep is your love. Thank you, Lord! Amen.


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Love and Strength

Reading: Isaiah 40: 27-31

Verse 29: “He gives strength to the weary and his understanding no one can fathom”.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

The second half of our passage from Isaiah 40 continues the theme of yesterday’s verses: God is everlasting. Isaiah again asks, “Do you not know? Have you not heard”? Just as we need to be reminded over and over, so too do the Israelites. God is still our God, unchanging and eternal. When we get weary and when we feel isolated and alone, we too need to hear again that “the Lord is the everlasting God”. Isaiah goes on to remind the faithful that God doesn’t get weary or tired and that God’s understanding is unfathomable. How often we grow weary and fail to understand the depth of God’s love and wisdom and might!

Although almost none of our trials or struggles or even seasons of separation from God or one another are as long as the forty years Israel spent in exile, we can all relate to their situation. We’ve all walked through the valley for so long that we feel like we cannot take another step forward. Sometimes, though, we are to blame for the weariness and/or the isolation that we “suddenly” find ourselves in. We get caught up in chasing the things of this world until the moment we find ourselves wrung out and exhausted and alone, hitting the wall and realizing it was all for naught. However and why we got to the place of weariness or isolation, verse 29 speaks balm to our souls: “He gives strength to the weary and his understanding no one can fathom”. Our everlasting, eternal God is right there. God understands. Our wise and mighty God is right there to give us his understanding and his strength.

This is goods news for us, yes, but it is also good news that we are meant to share. When God gives us strength and understanding, it is a wonderful gift. It is life changing for us to realize that we are not alone, that the God of the universe is on our side. Experiencing those touches of God draw us deeper into our relationship with God. In that place, we know what it means to be truly loved. Filled by that love and strength we are equipped to share that with a broken and needy world. Going out into the weariness and loneliness of the world, we bear God’s presence into the lives of those who are hurting and who are thirsty. May we each bring hope into the world today and every day.

Prayer: Loving and almighty God, guide me today to those who are weary, to those who are lonely, to those who need to feel and experience your love and strength, even if they do not know it. Fill me with the words or actions to help others know you today. 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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Remaining Connected

Reading: Genesis 25: 19-34

Verse 21: “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren”.

Last week we looked at the miraculous story of finding a wife for Isaac. The baby born when mom and dad were 90 and 100, respectively, marries a wife that clearly God had a hand in selecting. Remember how the servant’s prayer was exactly how things unfolded in finding Rebekah? It seemed like a fairy tale beginning to a storybook marriage. But then, in today’s passage, we find that it is not exactly the case. They cannot have children. Rebekah is barren.

One of the main reasons for marriage was to have children, to produce heirs. Children were a couple’s pride and joy. They were a sign of God’s blessings. But Isaac and Rebekah were without children. Like Abraham and Sarah before them, like Zechariah and Elizabeth and many other couples to follow, this barrenness was like a cross to bear. And like all the other cases of barrenness that we read about in the Bible, God chooses to intervene in their behalf. In verse 21 we read, “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren”. God responds with twins! As it was with all of these couples, God has a plan and will work it out in his time and in his way.

Although for most of us barrenness is not our issue, for some couples it is. Others deal with sickness or disease. Some struggle with an addiction. Anger, doubt, anxiety, pride, selfishness, loneliness, singleness – the list of things we bring to God is long. We all need God’s intervention. Whatever valley we are in or whichever sin we are currently dealing with, we all need God to answer our prayer. For us, as it well may have been for Isaac, the waiting is the hardest part.

In the passage it sounds so easy: he prayed and they become pregnant – all in one verse. We’d all like our prayers answered in what appears to be expediency. But more often our reality is like Isaac and Rebekah’s reality – married when he was 40, the twins are not born for another 20 years. For us there is often a span of time that falls between our initial prayer and God’s response. Isaac and Rebekah remain connected to God and God remains connected to them. They trust in God’s plan. May we do so as well.

Prayer: God of all, you created this world and continue to create, to form, to shape, to guide. Help me to have a faith that is trusting and patient, content and assured. Lead me to a faithful and long walk with you. Amen.


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…For You Are with Me

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 4: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

Almost all people with a little church background would recognize verse four. Even those without church experience would recognize this verse as a statement of faith. Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable and beloved Psalms. Verse four would not be most folk’s choice for ‘favorite verse of Psalm 23’. As a whole, the Psalm offers or reminds us of God’s provision and guidance, of his presence and blessings, and of the goodness we experience when we walk with the Lord. And there in the middle we find verse four.

This verse is there because it is part of life. The valley of shadow is one we all walk through. It is certainly one that the Israelites and David himself knew well. The Israelites time in slavery and the trials of wandering the desert for 40 years were valleys. The invasions and occupations by many different world powers and the exile to Babylon were valleys. David had his too – hunted down by Saul, watching God allow his son to die… We also have our valleys. We’ve felt exile and we’ve been overwhelmed. We’ve felt the sting of death and we’ve been left all alone. This is why verse four rings so true. Not that we have not experienced blessings and provision, guidance and protection. We have. Over and over. But those moments when Jesus drew near and walked the valley floor right there beside us – those are the moments. We can join David in saying, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. Yes, goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives. Yes, we will dwell with God forever. But the Lord is also with me when I need him most. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you have walked with me for many years. Often our footprints are side by side. Sometimes, though, there has been a gap between our paths. But you always pulled me back, close once again. Always. And sometimes, sometimes the footprints seem to be almost one. In the deepest valleys you have been so close. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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One Step at a Time

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 4-14

Verse 9: “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”.

The dry bones in the valley represent Israel and the current condition of their collective faith. As the prophet sent to Israel during part of their exile, Ezekiel would have been well aware of the peoples’ sins and their current reality. This part that connected to their past probably saddened him greatly. The dry bones scattered across the valley floor are a stark and vivid reminder of their disobedient past. I can look back at seasons in my faith journey and can see how God would portray those times as a valley of dry bones. Most of us probably could. For others, maybe it feels like they are in the valley right now.

God says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”. God does not plan to leave the Israelites in this valley forever. God has a better future planned for his people. God has chosen Ezekiel to bring this word to his people. Knowing that God will bring new life to the nation of Israel would give Ezekiel and those who heard his prophetic message some hope. Knowing the end of the current story brings one hope in the valley, but it can be hard to wait and to walk faithfully towards the future that God has planned. It is hard because we want the better future NOW. The added challenge for the exiles is that their faith is dry. How does one walk faithfully with dry or no faith?

The answer is not complex: one step at a time. Ezekiel knew this was a vision, but he still obediently played his part. In one way this is a practice run. In reality he will seek to breath spiritual life into the people living in exile. Today, when one is in the valley or when one is living exiled from God, the steps are still the same: trust in God’s love, act on what God is leading you to, and rely on God’s power and strength for the journey. Each day may we see as God sees, stepping forward in faith.

Prayer: Loving God, when the future seems uncertain, give me the faith to take that first step. Through the power of the Holy Spirit guides me in obedience. Step by step may I follow. Amen.


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God Alone Knows

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-3

Verse 3: “Son of man, can these bones live”? … “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”.

Today’s reading centers on a vision that God gave to Ezekiel the prophet about 2,600 years ago. Reading these words in our current context gives us ears to hear these words in a new way. The devotional book that I physically read each morning is based upon the weekly lectionary readings and was available for order in late September 2019. Yet as I read the author’s words this morning, it feels as if they were written for this very day. Together, these are just one more evidence that God’s word is active and alive.

Ezekiel is led out into a valley of bones that are very dry. The bones have been strewn across the valley floor for quite a while. Ezekiel describes the quantity as a “great many bones”. A great devastation had occurred. On December 31, 2019, an unknown “pneumonia” was first reported to the World Health Organization in China. Not even three months in and it feels like a long time, doesn’t it? In this season of isolation and safe distancing, some are beginning to feel a bit dry.

Ezekiel walks among the bones for some time. “Back and forth” is the way my Bible describes it. After Ezekiel had surely absorbed the vast loss that had occurred, God asks him this question: “Son of man, can these bones live”? My initial response would have been doubt or maybe to consider the sanity of the question. But Ezekiel is aware that he is in the midst of this valley for a God purpose. He replies in faith, saying, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”. It is an honest and sincere answer.

In this season that we find ourselves in presently, we too, as people of faith, must approach all the uncertainties, fears, worries… with this same attitude. God alone knows where all this is heading. Even though I do not have the slightest clue, I do know that God has all the answers. This is his world, God has a plan. All things eternal are under his control. In faith may we each step forward, loving one another as we best can, trusting God to bring forth something good.

Prayer: Lord God, in these days, help me to trust fully in you. May I discern what I can do to be help and love to others. Lead me to shine your light into all the places I can. Amen.


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A Psalm for Today

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

For many of us, just hearing the first verse of Psalm 23 triggers the same response as hearing these words: “Our Father, who art in heaven…”. The words of Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer are deeply embedded in our hearts and minds. This week’s “Disciplines” devotional writer, Don Salier, describes Psalm 23 this way: “We find deep life and faith compressed into these few verses”. We do indeed!

This Psalm of David speaks of the love and care that he enjoyed in his relationship with God. These words are beloved because we too can experience and relate them to our own relationship with God. The opening verse speaks of God’s care and provision, of the guidance and protection we receive. The ideas of green pastures and quiet waters ooze with love and care, with rest and renewal. Keeping us on the “paths of righteousness” requires a LOT of guidance and patience on God’s part. The fact that God does this for all of our lives shouts volumes about the depth of God’s love for you and me. And then verse four! In the worst times of life, God is right there. The valley may literally be death. Or it might be addiction. It might be divorce or the unexpected loss of a job. In these valleys the words of David always ring true: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. God is our ever present help in times of need.

Turning to verse five we remember the table prepared for us in two ways. One is the great feast that awaits us in heaven. The second is the great feast that greets us at the communion table. In both settings our cup will and does overflow with God’s mercy and love. Lastly comes the closer, verse six. Yes, yes, yes! Within our relationship with the Lord, goodness and love are ours. In this life’s days and in all of our days in the life to come, we who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will dwell in the house of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, oh how these words of David fill my heart with joy. Thank you for placing these words upon his heart so that they fill my heart. Thank you for your love. It is amazing and so life-giving. All praise and honor are yours, my God. Amen.


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For You and Me

Reading: Romans 5: 1-11

Verse 5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul begins chapter five by reminding the Romans and us that because we have been justified by faith (made right with God), we have peace, joy, and hope. As the saved, we stand within Jesus’ grace and within the glory of God. Paul also acknowledges that at times the place we stand will bring a degree of suffering. I love the progression that Paul details in verses three and four. If we keep the faith, suffering will produce perseverance, which will produce character, which will produces hope. Paul concludes his opening thoughts with these words: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. Over and in and through all of this, God pours his love into us. God does so by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s living presence within us. Becoming incarnate and living among humanity for 30+ years was a wonderful gift. Becoming the constant indwelling presence in our hearts: amazing!

Earlier this week we looked at Moses and the Israelites out in the wilderness. Their suffering did not lead to perseverance. Instead, remember how quickly they forgot all that God had done for them very recently and how they turned to grumbling? We too can do this. When trial or suffering or unwanted change comes, we too can lose sight of our faith and seek to work things out on our own. Taught to be independent and self-sufficient, our instinct isn’t always to turn to God first. Even though our own faith journey has taught us that God can and will be present to us and will see us through the valleys, sometimes we forget. In these times, the gift of the Holy Spirit is so important.

The Holy Spirit reminds us of God’s love – that love that has been poured into our hearts. The Holy Spirit calls us back to trusting in God, to seeking that peace, joy, and hope once again. The Holy Spirit calls to mind both the Biblical narrative and our own encounters with our loving and gracious God. And in verse eight we also find a powerful reminder: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Jesus Christ died to justify us, to save us from our sins, to reconcile us to God. It came at a cost. God gave his only Son so that the rest of his children could be saved. God did this for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, as I ponder the depth and breadth of your love, I can barely begin to wrap my head around it. But this love is a matter of the heart, not the head. Your love fills my heart. Grant me opportunities today to shed that love abroad. Amen.


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Be a Blessing

Reading: Genesis 12: 1-4a

Verse 3: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you”.

Abram pulls up stakes and heads off to see where God wants him to call home. Doing so he demonstrates great obedience and a deep trust in God. He goes with the promises to be made into a great nation and to be blessed. Abram is one of many characters in the Bible that step out of their norm and often out of their comfort zone simply because God called them to do so. It was not easy for one of them. Even though the story is full of these faithful and obedient men and women, I am sure there were also at least as many that refused, ignored, denied, ran from… the call. How am I so sure? I have but to look at my own life to realize how easy it is to fail at being faithful and obedient all the time. Often the bigger the step of faith, the more hesitant or reluctant I am to take the step.

Abram was 75 when he left home and headed for Canaan. He took what he had – his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions and people “accumulated in Haran”. Before departing God’s last words to Abram were these: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. Abram was not just going to be a blessing to his family or even to those in the land that he was going to inherit. The blessing was going to be for all peoples. Right there, in Matthew 1:1 and 1:2, Abram’s name begins to geneology of Jesus. The father of many nations is also in the family tree of Jesus, the Christ. In verse sixteen the list ends with Jesus. But the list does not end there. The list of those in the family of God continues to grow even this day. Listed right there as a brother or sister of Jesus is your name and my name. We are adopted in, but we are still family in God’s eyes. Because of this truth, we are indeed very blessed.

We are also connected to Abram in another way. Because we are blessed we too are called to be a blessing to others. It may be in the form of a small act of kindness today. It may be to walk through the valley with someone. It may be to share Jesus Christ with them. There are many ways to be a blessing. Each day may we seek to be a blessing to others.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the opportunities that you will bring my way today. I know they’ll be there – you provide them every day. Help me this day to be more faithful and more obedient, serving others as I serve you. Amen.