pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Can you…?

Reading: Mark 10: 35-40

Verse 35: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

After clearly hearing what lies ahead for Jesus in verses 33 and 34 – condemned, mocked, spit upon, flogged, killed – James and John come to Jesus with a request. They preface it with “do for us whatever we ask.” It seems like they have something really important on their minds. Turns out to be so – they want the seats of glory in heaven. Did they miss the part about being condemned…?

Instead of getting angry or frustrated, Jesus is patient. Explaining the cost of discipleship another way he asks if they can “drink the cup” or be “baptized” as he will be. They say “we can” even though they have no idea what they will face. James and John will drink the cup of suffering and rejection and mocking. They will be baptized by the fires of persecution. Jesus assures them that they will indeed be able to pay the high price of discipleship. But, alas, he cannot grant their request – God already has those seats filled.

Those of us who have been part of a faith community for very long understand the cost of discipleship. We’ve given or heard lots of sermons about loving others more than self, about taking up our cross, about dying to self, about being generous and serving others. We’ve been through enough Easters to be aware of the high price Jesus paid to break the chains of sin and death. We feel perfectly comfortable, as James and John did, to ask Jesus about or for anything – from small requests to really big prayers. But are we willing to drink the cup and to be baptized as Jesus and the early disciples and apostles were? I fully realize that it is not in the slightest way a ‘quid pro quo’ situation, but there is clearly a cost to discipleship as Jesus clearly lays out in today’s passage and in many others.

Maybe your first thought, like mine when I read James’ and John’s question, was something like: How could you ask that?! If so, may we spend a little more time with Jesus’ question: Can you…?

Prayer: Lord God, it’s easy to walk a surface level faith. It’s easy to show up on a Sunday and maybe to a small group once a week or so. It’s another thing to be willing to suffer and to endure persecution, to pay a price for my faith. Lord, move me closer to this sacrificial and fully committed faith. Amen.


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Awed

Reading: Job 38: 34-41

Verse 35: “Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are'”?

Photo credit: Micah Tindell

I really enjoy a good storm. My wife likes it best when I observe them from afar. When the conditions are just right a big storm will form. I prefer when this happens to the north currently because there is a large picture window in the living room that faces that way. There is usually thunder that comes with the lightning. Both are powerful reminders of the energy in the natural world. The incredible force behind this power is the creator, God. From a distance the bolts of lightning spider web across the sky, reminding me of God’s power and might. A big bolt of lightning can light up the sky from east to west – as far as the eye can see.

As God continues to speak to Job in today’s passage, the questions remain unanswerable. No, Job cannot make it rain. No, Job cannot harness the lightning bolts. No, Job is not the giver of wisdom. No, Job cannot provide food for the wild animals. This line of questioning will continue for chapters 39, 40, and 41. Job will not be able to answer one of God’s questions. When Job stated in chapter nine that a mortal “could not answer God one time out of a thousand” how right he was! The same is true for us. Not one of us could intelligibly answer even one of God’s questions in these four chapters. So, what does this part of the book of Job say to our faith?

I love to watch the lightning and to hear the thunder that emerged from a lightning bolt. It is beautiful. It is awesome. Again, it reminds me of the power of God. What I really enjoy, though, is to be close to a storm. When it rolls down the valley and gets close (and if my wife isn’t home), I like to step outside. There I can feel the power in the storm. I am no closer to calling or sending the lightning, but it feels like I am more in God’s presence. Job could not answer any of God’s questions but he knew God better and more intimately because he was in God’s presence. I cannot recommend that you go stand under a tree in the next lightning storm but I can recommend drawing close to God. Today take a few minutes to read and to marinate in chapters 38-41 in Job. Like standing near a good lightning storm you will be awed by God’s power and might. I’d say reading Job 38-41 is safer, but it might not be.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me into your power. Draw me into your might. Humble me in your presence. In these ways may I walk closer to you. Amen.


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Holding Onto the Promises

Reading: Job 38: 1-7

Verse 2: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”

As we continue in the book of Job, God speaks out of the whirlwind. There is not a storm brewing in Uz. The power of God’s voice creates the whirlwind. God addresses Job and possibly his ‘friends’ who have offered ‘consolation’ and ‘advice.’ All of the human characters in the story operate from this understanding of blessed and curses: please God and be blessed; sin or anger God and be cursed. The friends assume that Job’s circumstances are the result of his sin(s). Job is positively confused. He feels unjustly cursed because he knows that he did not sin.

Verses one through seven begin a long soliloquy where God asks Job a series of questions. It begins with this question in verse two: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” This warning of a question is followed with “Brace yourself.” This line of questioning will not be a walk in the park. Today’s questions from God ask Job if he was there when God laid the earth’s foundation. God asks if Job knows what the footings of the earth are. “Tell me if you understand” God says. Job cannot answer these questions. He was not there nor does he have any source of knowledge that could answer these questions. But even more so, Job is humbled by God’s line of questioning. These questions and those that continue through chapter 41 remind Job, his friends, and us that we do not possess divine power and wisdom. God’s wisdom most often stands beyond our limits. God’s plans often escape our logic. God is God. It is good to be reminded of this. Often. It keeps us seeing faith and the world from the right perspective.

We know that God’s ultimate plan is to restore all things, to make all things new. One day there will be a new heaven and a new earth. When the path towards these promises becomes unclear or maybe doesn’t make sense to us, may we remember that God is God and that God loves us and wants justice and reconciliation for us. Holding onto these promises may we walk forward in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to question, when I want to shout ‘Why?!’, when I begin to doubt your love and care for me – remind me of my right place in our relationship. My wisdom, my understanding, my knowledge is but a speck in the vastness of your universe. Into this reality of your power and might and wisdom I put my trust and my faith. Amen.


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Created

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

Verse 1: “O Lord my God, you are very great: you are clothed with splendor and majesty.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

The psalmist is awed by God’s power and might. In verse one the author declares: “O Lord my God, you are very great: you are clothed with splendor and majesty.” There is a deep love for God that runs throughput this Psalm.

In the first few verses the psalmist sees God’s power and might in the heavens – in the lights, in the clouds, in the winds, and in the lightning. When one takes in the vastness of the stars and watches how the world works so intricately and precisely, just as God designed and created it, one cannot help being awed by God.

In the second set of verses the author reflects on God’s creative power and full control over the created world. God set the foundations of the earth and then established mountains and seas, valleys and rivers. All of our world was created, sculpted by the words and thoughts of God. In the opening nine verses the psalmist echoes much of the feeling found in the creation story of Genesis 1.

When one takes in these verses it’s easy to understand why the psalmist calls God “very great” and why he or she recognizes God as “clothed with splendor and majesty.” But why did God create and design as God did? In verse 24 we read, “The earth is full of your creatures.” All that God did was out of love for the creation. God’s final act in the creation story was to create humanity – that part of creation that God deemed “very good.” Created in God’s image we are the centerpiece of creation and of God’s love. Made in God’s image, we are created to reflect God’s love out into the world.

Our Psalm closes with these words: “Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.” In our day today, in all we think and say and do, may we praise the Lord, bringing all the glory to God.

Prayer: O God of power and might, of majesty and splendor, this day I praise your creativity and your love. All this – the vastness of creation, the amazing design – all this for those you created in your image. As one who bears that image, may I love all of creation well this day. Amen.


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Abundant Rains

Reading: Joel 2: 21-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.”

Photo credit: Crystal Huff

The prophet Joel is like many other Old Testament prophets. Sent by God to call the people back into right relationship with God, he came with a message of repentance. The locusts that have ravaged Israel are the result of sinful idol worship. Joel calls the people to “put on sackcloth” and to “declare a holy fast.” He implores the people to “rend your hearts” – to tear them away from idols and to turn once again to God. As the book works towards today’s reading, Joel speaks of God driving the enemy away.

In our text for today Joel reminds the people that “the Lord has done great things.” Yes, God is faithful. As a sign Joel points to the signs of God’s returning favor: greening pastures and trees and vines beginning to bear fruit. God is still there. Yes, the nation’s sins have brought hardship and suffering. But God is still there. Even when all seems lost, even when it feels like things couldn’t get any worse – look, God is still here. It is that kind word spoken in our time of need. It is that quiet presence that reminds us that we are not alone. Even in the trial and suffering, there are signs of God’s presence.

As we have walked through the valleys we have felt like God was not there. We may have even felt that the consequences were the result of our sinful actions. At times we’ve all said or done things that have brought just suffering upon ourselves. In these moments or seasons it is important to remember God’s promises. God is still our God. God is still in control. If we also rend our hearts towards God as we repent of our evil ways, then God will green up the pastures and send abundant healing rains. God is faithful. Our response to God’s faithfulness will be to praise Gods name. And “then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your faithfulness extends to all generations. Your love and mercy never ends. When I falter and stumble, when I sin, gently call me back again. May your abundant mercies wash away my sin, restoring me back into your presence. Amen.


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Leaning into God

Reading: Job 23: 1-9 and 16-17

Verse 7: “There an upright man could present his case before God.”

Photo credit: Jeremy Thomas

At the end of the week we return to Job. He has experienced great loss and hardship. His friends have accused him of sinning and have condemned him for not repenting. They have told him that he deserves the punishment that has come. While his friends and the world around him see Job’s situation one way, Job sees it differently. Job knows that he is innocent, that he has not sinned or done anything wrong, that he does not deserve what has befallen him. But this is his reality. It does not make sense in his mind. Why would God curse an innocent man and his family? Job knows that all would be made right if he could have an audience with God. In verse seven he says, “There an upright man could present his case before God.” Job may not understand why all this has happened to him and he may be puzzled by God’s felt absence, but his heart still believes that God is in control and that his Redeemer will redeem him.

In the depth of the valley, when we are in the throws of despair, it can be hard to hold onto God and onto our faith. As the time drags on and we’ve searched for God as Job did – in the north and south, to the east and west – we too can feel the darkness closing in around us. We know that God is always there. Our long walk of faith has proven God’s presence. In verse twelve Job says, “I have not departed from the commands of God’s lips; I have treasured the words of God’s mouth more than my daily bread.” More than anything, Job is reminding himself of his faith and of his long walk with God. Job is making the choice to remember who and what God is even though it doesn’t feel like it in the present moment. Shortly God will come around. God will speak. God always does. May we ever lean into this reality, especially when we find ourselves in the places of trial and suffering. May it be so.

Prayer: God, you are always watching, always seeing. At times we feel all alone. Even then, though, you are there. Help us to trust when we can’t see and to lean in anyway when we can’t feel your presence. Remind us that even then we are in the palm of your hand. Keep us strong in our faith. Amen.


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Rewards and Persecutions

Reading: Mark 10: 27-31

Verse 31: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

We begin our time today where our passage left off yesterday. We are once again reminded that “all things are possible with God.” As we once again hear Jesus’ call to lay aside the things of this world to follow him, we quickly realize that we need some divine help to walk out this kind of faith. Peter and the other disciples have just heard Jesus’ interaction with the rich young man and have heard the warning about the great difficulty of entering heaven if we are tied to the things of this world. Peter declares, “We have left everything to follow you!” Yes, they truly have. For almost three years they have followed the one who also did the same, leaving Nazareth, his family, and the family business to bring healing and the good news to the world.

Jesus then tells us that following comes with great rewards and also with persecutions. We receive much from our faith – little in the ways of the world but much in terms of living a life that is abundant and joyful and fulfilling. It is not always an easy life. It runs counter to the ways of the world so we also face some persecution. Sometimes it is blatant and abusive; sometimes it involves quiet suffering.

In the last verse Jesus speaks to the counter-cultural nature of God’s kingdom. He says, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Those walking in the ways of the world think they are ‘first.’ But in the economy of God, they are ‘last.’ Maybe ‘lost’ would be a better word. Conversely, those who seem to be last according to how the world judges success will be first in the kingdom of God. Living and loving as Jesus did, the faithful will enjoy the abundance and glory of heaven. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, your ways are not the ways of the world. Sometimes they are not my ways either. Guide me to a more faithful walk day by day. Amen.


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Possible with God

Reading: Mark 10: 17-27

Verse 21: “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor… Then come, follow me.”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

Jesus speaks often about money and/or possessions. Both of these things are signs of wealth. Almost all of us who read this have been raised in a culture that values the accumulation of wealth above all else. We’ve all been taught to display our signs of wealth as a measure of our success. Things weren’t any different in Jesus’ day. The main character is described as “the rich young man.” He is not described as ‘the one who really wanted to follow Jesus with lots of stuff.’

The man runs up to Jesus, falls at his feet, and wants to know what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus begins with the commandments. Yes! The young man has kept all of these. Then Jesus goes deeper. We wish he wouldn’t. Faith would be so much easier if it were just keeping a few rules and knowing what Jesus said. We could just check the boxes and then get back to enjoying this blessed life that we’ve worked so hard to build. Going deeper, looking for more than surface-level commitment, Jesus says, “One thing you lack…” Boy this is hard to hear. There is more required? Yes. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor… Then come, follow me.” Everything? To rid ourselves of the clingy webs of this consumeristic world, do we really need to sell everything? We at least need to be truly willing to. The value of wealth is so deeply ingrained in us that this concept is probably too much for most of us to seriously consider. The man’s face became sad and he went away dejected. He could not do what Jesus asked of him. Would we too walk away sad?

When we pursue and love wealth more than we pursue and love God, we are not living a life that leads to eternal life in heaven. In our day and age can we even live outside of the cultural norm that values wealth above all else? On our own, no. In verse 27 we read, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” With God may we release our grip on the things and ways of this world, instead holding fast to God and the way that leads to life eternal.

Prayer: Lord God, bend me towards your will and way. Pry my hands off of my things and put my hands and feet and lips to service in your kingdom. May I build relationships and bonds of love, not piles of finite things. Amen.


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Our Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 4: 14-16

Verse 14: “Since we have a great high priest… Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

In yesterday’s reading from Hebrews 4 we were reminded of our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God. This part of the passage called me to an awareness of my thoughts and attitudes, of my sinful nature. In verses 14-16 today we are pointed towards salvation, restoration, and redemption through Jesus Christ.

Our passage for today begins with this wonderful reminder: “Since we have a great high priest… Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Because we have Jesus, we can cling tightly to our faith. Jesus is on our side. Once upon a time the priest intervened for the people. The priest brought the people’s needs before God. The priest made atonement for the peoples’ sins. Before Jesus a priest was essential in one’s relationship with God. Then Jesus, God in the flesh, came and brought direct access to God. Anytime, anywhere, anyhow we can go directly to God with our needs, with our thanksgiving, with our confession and repentance. Jesus literally and figuratively tore in two the curtain that separated the people from the throne room of God.

And it gets better. Jesus intercedes for us. Seated at the right hand of God is one who “has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” Jesus knows what it was and is like to be human – fragile, weak, selfish, easily tempted. He can sympathize with us, can have empathy for us, can speak to our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God on our behalf. Jesus was able to be the final sacrifice and can be in God’s presence because “he was without sin.” Because the perfect lamb of God is on our side, we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” knowing an ally is already there, already speaking on our behalf. With confidence we can come to God with our confession and repentance, knowing we will receive mercy, knowing we will be made new again. In the same way we can bring our needs to God, trusting that we will find the grace needed to get through the trials and sufferings. In and through all of life our great high priest, Jesus Christ, walks with us. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: God of mercy and grace, thank you for the incredible gift of Jesus Christ, your Son. He is with us; he is for us. He knows what it is like to live here on earth, to be tempted, to feel pain and sorrow. And oh how he loves us. Because of this love Jesus brings us before your throne – day by day and one day eternally. What an amazing love! Thank you God! Amen.


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Sees All, Knows All

Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-13

Verse 13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.”

Photo credit: Hermes Rivera

So far this week we have read about Job and David coming before God, offering bold prayers. There was lament in their prayers. But there was also a recognition that God could act or intervene on their behalf in restorative ways. Both also struggle to sense God’s presence. In today’s passage we read, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.” We know this is true. Job and David were bold approaching God knowing this truth as well. Can we approach with such boldness? Or do we have parts of ourselves that we do not really want God to see?

In Hebrews we read that the word of God is “active and alive… penetrating” and that it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Job and David felt alone; they could not sense God’s presence. Here in the New Testament we read that God sees and knows all things, that the word of God judges our thoughts and attitudes. Nothing is hidden from God. Then why do we try to hide some things or feel unable to bring all things to God in prayer? It is not because we do not want to “lay bare” these things to God – God already sees and knows them! To take these things before God fully exposed them in our own hearts and minds. What then?! What then do we do with these ongoing struggles within, with these parts of ourselves that are not pleasing to God?

We begin by bringing them to God, by admitting our failures and shortcomings to ourselves and to God. We allow the living and active word of God to penetrate and separate us from the things of this world that we so closely cling to. We commit to turning from these things in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We pledge ourselves to a deeper walk of faith in and through Jesus Christ. Yes, God knows and sees all things. A faithful walk begins with a humble and repentant heart. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of all creation, make my heart right today. Draw out of me those things that hinder my walk with you. Empower me to admit them to myself so that the work of rooting them out may begin. Strengthen me for this hard work. Amen.