pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Old and Blessed

Reading: Job 42: 10-17

Verse 17: “And so he died, old and full of years.”

As we conclude our time in Job it seems we’ve come full circle. By the end of our reading, Job’s fortunes and family have been restored in abundance. In verse twelve we read, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” On the surface this is true. But to dig a little deeper reveals that much has changed.

Job is very different than when this journey began. As I wrote about yesterday, the eye of Job’s heart now sees God for who God is. The God that he thought he knew in his mind has become fully present in his heart. The pain and grief that Job walked through may have subsided a bit but the hurt will always be there. The love for his first children will not be replaced by his new children. For example, when Jemimah reminds him of one of his daughters who died, tears will flow and his heart will ache. Job does move forward with his life, one very blessed by God, but he does so with deep scars. Job himself has been changed too. He now more fully understands God and the love of God for all parts of creation – from the ravens God feeds to his friends that God rebukes in verses 7-9.

Modeling the love of God that Job himself now fully knows, he prays for his friends. Previous to his time of suffering this may have been too much to ask of Job’s surface level faith. The faith that only resided in his mind and that was driven by a fear of punishment would have struggled to pray for these men who added to his suffering. The Job whose heart sees the full scope of God’s love and mercy easily prays for these friends. It is a love and mercy that Job wants them to know as well. So Job ministers to his friends. This is a much different Job than the one who made his first set of children offer sacrifices for their possible bad behavior. Job now offers his friends forgiveness and a new relationship with God from a place of love, not fear. Walking with God in a loving and intimate relationship, our story concludes with these words: “And so he died, old and full of years.” Old and full of years. Old and blessed because of a personal relationship with God. May it be so for you and for me!

Prayer: Lord God, it’s awesome that Job was totally restored and then some. The true blessing was the personal and intimate relationship with you. Possessions, titles, money, popularity – all nice but none are guarantees of a good life. A life that is good and pleasing to you is one that is full of love, peace, hope, joy, grace, forgiveness, kindness, mercy, contentment… Guide me to these treasures, O Lord. Amen.


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Deeper, Stronger

Reading: Job 42: 1-6

Verse 5: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes see you.”

Job has lived a righteous and upright life. God allowed Satan to test Job’s faith. He remained faithful. Job’s wife and friends add to his suffering with accusations and condemnations. Job longs to have an audience with God, to state his case. God responds to Job in a long speech that leaves Job humbled and with a new understanding of God. Today we read Job’s response.

Job begins by acknowledging that God “can do all things” and that “no plan of yours can be thwarted.” Job has taken in the immensity of God’s power and the depth of God’s creative might. In the complexity of the created world and in the detailed order of animal life, God has done some amazing and awesome work. God speaks of the behemoth and the leviathan – two creatures with great power that are feared by humanity. These creatures are far outside of man’s control but well within God’s. God asks, “Can you make a pet of him?” No, God, certainly not. In response Job says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me.” Job recognizes his place in God’s world. Along with all of humanity, Job realized that he was not the center of all things.

Job has been changed by this encounter with God. In reality Job knew God and followed God’s ways at least as well as any other human being on the earth. God lifted him up to Satan as an example of faith. But as God spoke out of the whirlwind, Job came to know God in a deeper and more intimate way. In verse five Job declares, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes see you.” Job had worshiped and followed a God that he thought was powerful, awesome, worthy of his praise. Now Job sees God in a clearer way. Job now knows that God is all these things and so much more. His connection to God is now so much deeper, so much more profound, so much stronger. Job’s faith in God has grown. As we delve into the word, as we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives, as we strive to follow Jesus’ example, our faith will grow deeper, the connection will become stronger. May it be so as we walk closely with the Lord our God day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, like Job, the more I know you, the longer I walk with you, the more awed and amazed I become. My faith journey has been filled with moments when I’ve come to know you more intimately, to love you more deeply, to praise you more sincerely. Continue to journey with me, ever allowing my eyes and heart to see and know you more clearly. Amen.


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Walking with Others

Reading: Psalm 34: 1-8

Verse 2: “My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.”

Having narrowly escaped his encounter with King Achish, David writes this Psalm. (For more detail on this event read 1st Samuel 21: 10-15.) David could’ve written about how clever he was to escape this dangerous situation. He could’ve celebrated outsmarting an enemy. David does not do any of this. David correctly identifies the source of the guidance that led him past this dangerous place: God.

The Psalm begins with praise. David extols God, boasts about God, and glorifies God. He is so thankful. But don’t miss the second half of verse two. It begins with, “My soul will boast in the Lord.” This is the ‘what.’ The second half is the ‘why’: “Let the afflicted hear and rejoice.” David writes to let others who find themselves in a dangerous situation to know that God is good, powerful, and on their side too. David shares his experience of when God rescued him so that others can trust God to do the same for them. In verse four David writes, “I sought the Lord, and the Lord answered me; the Lord delivered me from my fears.” He is giving witness to God’s protection and guidance.

The reality is that we who have walked a while with the Lord also have stories of God’s intervention in our lives. We can all identify times when God rescued us, when God guided us through, when God saved us… Now you or I might not write a beautiful Psalm to express these experiences, but we are still called to share our stories of faith. As we too praise and witness to our faith and to the power and might of God, we help others to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Doing so we will help others to experience how “blessed is the man [or woman] who takes refuge in the Lord.” As God presents opportunities to walk with others in faith may we make the most of them, drawing others deeper into relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, we never like the valleys that we walk through at times. These times that are just part of life are often times and places of growth in our faith. They become opportunities to help others walking a similar valley. Empower and use us to see the opportunities and to trust into you as we witness to our faith experiences as we walk alongside another, reminding them of your love and power, of your grace and might. Amen.


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Called by God

Reading: Hebrews 10: 1-10

Verse 4: “No one takes this honor upon himself [or herself]; he [or she] must be called by God.”

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

Today’s passage begins with the traditional role of the priest in ancient Judaism. Called from the Levites, a priest represented the people “in matters related to God.” This included offering prayers and sacrifices as they dealt “gently” with those who were “ignorant” or “going astray.” The priests were human beings too, so they were sinful and offered sacrifices for their own sins.

In verse four the author of Hebrews shifts to Jesus. Quoting from two Psalms, the writer identifies Jesus as one appointed by God to be the high priest forever. Like the Levite priests, Jesus offered up prayers and petitions to God. He was heard by God because of his “reverent submission” to God. We are also reminded of Jesus’ final suffering on the cross, through which he “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus was without sin. This enabled him to be the final and perfect sacrifice in humanity’s battle with sin.

Where do we fit in this priesthood? We are not from the line of Levi – the traditional qualification for being a priest. This is no longer a prerequisite in Judaism either. We are also sinful, far from perfect. We all deal with sin regularly in our own lives. Therefore we all fall short of role of “great high priest” given to Jesus. Even though we do not fit either of these categories, we are all called by God to be priests or ministers of the gospel. We are all called to offer prayers and petitions for ourselves and for others. We are all called to reverent submission to God. We are all called to suffer for our faith at times. We are all called to help one another on our walks if faith, gently and lovingly helping those who have gone astray. We are weak and sinful, offering the sacrifice of repentance to be redeemed from our sins. Through Jesus Christ’s gift on the cross we who believe claim eternal life.

The moment we claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are called by God to be a witness to our faith. We do not take this calling upon ourselves. Called by God and commissioned by Jesus, we are charged with making disciples for the transformation of the world. Called, we follow in Christ’s footsteps, carrying the good news to all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, use me each day to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Use my words, my actions, my thoughts, and my witness to draw others into your light and love. Amen.


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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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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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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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Invite God In

Reading: Psalm 22: 1-15

Verse 11: “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”

This week’s Psalm of lament covers the spectrum of emotions and prayers that we experience in times of tragedy or suffering. David begins with feeling forsaken by God. Often when we experience the pain or grief pressing in on us we feel all alone. It does not feel like God is anywhere close by. This can deepen our grief or pain. Our response is usually like David’s – we cry out to God. We cry out because we do not think God is doing what God has promised to do. Our loving, compassionate, caring God does not seem very loving or compassionate or caring. Yet we can recall how God has acted in the stories in the Bible and in our experiences of faith in the trial. So we cry out for God to intervene on our behalf. We cry out but still feel alone in the darkness. These periods can tempt us to question our faith, to doubt God, to disconnect from our brothers and sisters in the family of God, to become angry that God is not being God.

After a prolonged period in the valley, one begins to feel as David feels in verses fifteen and sixteen. Our strength is dried up. One lays in “the dust of death.” One feels totally wrung out. This place leads us to honest, heartfelt, even desperate prayer. Like David we can earnestly pray, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” At the bottom of the valley we totally surrender to God. Divine intervention is our only option and we cry out to the Lord our God. Doing so we invite God into our suffering and pain – not necessarily to end it but to be present to us in it. We invite God to see our pain, our hurting, to sit with us in and through it. Opening ourselves to God’s abiding presence, God joins us in our darkness. It is not a pleasant or comfortable place to be. But when God is invited in we are not alone anymore. Thanks be to God for hearing our prayers and for simply being present to us in our lives and in our trials.

Prayer: Lord God, we know your truths in our minds. We’ve read the stories, we’ve walked in faith. We have experienced your saving grace and your generous love. In these teetering moments lead us to surrender to you, inviting your abiding presence into our time of need. Amen.