pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Over and Over

Reading: Psalm 34: 19-22

Verse 22: “The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in God.”

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

Psalm 34 comes from David and is a celebration of when God rescued him from Abimelech, a foreign king. David praises God for rescuing him and redeeming him from his troubles. The concepts of redemption and restoration run throughout the Bible and throughout this week’s readings. These concepts bring all believers hope in this life.

Leading into this Psalm, David finds himself in a tough situation – powerless before a powerful king. David is fleeing from King Saul and finds himself surrounded by this Philistine king and his troops. (In 1st Samuel 21 the king is identified as Achish.) God leads David to pretend to be totally insane. The king sees that David is no threat to anyone and sends this madman away. We read David’s praise in verse nineteen: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” David had gone on from slaying Goliath to winning many victories for King Saul. In his own true insanity, Saul became very jealous and wanted to kill David. Having only served faithfully, David now finds himself in trouble. Once again, God delivers him from trouble. David was also faithful to God, obediently doing as God directed.

We too are called to faithful, obedient living. We too are invited to listen for God’s voice, seeking God’s guidance and direction. When we do these things we are not guaranteed an easy, trouble-free life. We are promised God’s presence in all of life. Over and over David walked faithfully with God. This leads him to speak these words in verse 22: “The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in God.” May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, in the lows of life I frequently turn to you. There I know I need you. In the good days and even in the OK days my focus can so easily shift a bit. Focus me at all times on an obedient and faithful walk. Help me to be intentional about my walk with you. Amen.


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Trusting and Leaning into God

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

Verses 3-4: “If only I knew where to find God… I would state my case before God.”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

As we jump forward this week to chapter 23, much has happened in the twenty plus chapters. This section centers on the conversations between Job and his three friends. Running throughout is the understanding that Job must have sinned to cause all this hardship to befall him and his family. Job counters this common ancient line of thought with his responses. He is sure of his innocence. He is blameless. Job longs for an audience with God. He thinks that then God will really hear his case and will respond to Job as God should. At least as Job thinks God should respond to his unjust suffering. Job too is operating from this ancient mindset. He just thinks there has maybe been some mistake made in the heavenly realms.

Job knows that God is all-powerful. Job knows that God alone can give and take away. Job knows that God is loving and that God can make things ‘right’ for this faithful servant. But in the depth of his suffering, in the bottom of the valley, it seems that God is absent. Adding to this feeling are his friends. Friends are supposed to support and encourage one another. These friends end up doing the opposite in the end. God is supposed to hear the cries of the oppressed, of those experiencing injustice. Yet God seems to be nowhere to be found. Job states, “If only I knew where to find God… I would state my case before God.” Job still believes in God’s love and justice, in God’s power and might. He just longs to know God’s presence, to have a chance to speak with God.

Things aren’t lining up. They aren’t making sense for Job. What he thinks he knows about God is not matching his present reality. At times we all end up here. At times we all want to express our bitter complaints to God, sure that God will make all things right. And some of the time we end up where Job is – asking where God is. This is a tipping point of faith. Our head knows things our heart isn’t feeling. We may be tempted to walk away from God. We might even do so for a short season. We may feel as Job did: that God has “made my heart faint.” And when we’re there – as we all will be – may we remember Job’s response: “I am not silenced by the darkness.” Trusting and leaning into God, may we walk in faith, praying to our God who is faithful and true.

Prayer: Lord God, it can be hard to keep praying when the darkness persists. It can feel so hopeless and lonely in the bottom of the valley. Help us to remember the truths: you are faithful, you are true, you are steadfast, you are loving and good. Trusting in you, draw us to our knees, assured of your presence. Leaning into you, draw us into your purposes for our lives. Empower us to prayerfully walk in faith, clinging to you at all times. Amen.


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Poured Out Prayers

Reading: Psalm 26

Verses 1-2: “Vindicate me, O Lord … I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.”

Photo credit: Alex Woods

Today’s Psalm is one of lament, one of anguish, one of crying out to the Lord. We do not know the exact trial or time of suffering that David is going through, but we can feel his emotions and feelings. There is a sense of injustice or unfairness to these words. They are the sincere and honest words of a prayer poured out from the heart.

Reflecting on our readings from the past two days, these are certainly words that Job could have prayed. He was an “upright and blameless” man that endured tragedies that tested his faith. These are words that we have prayed (or will pray) too. Whenever we feel unjustly treated we too have prayed for vindication. Our sense of fairness is offended and we want God to fix it. We too have (or will) remind God of our unwavering faithfulness. It just doesn’t seem right for that thing to be happening to someone so faithful. And as a way to plead our case, to prove that we are worthy and deserving of God intervening on our behalf, we invite (or will invite) God to examine our heart, our mind, our faith. Surely the examination will reveal our worthiness to receive God’s action on our behalf.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were truly upright and blameless, if our hearts could really withstand a millisecond of God’s inspection? We do live holy and devout lives for portions of time. David, Job, Elijah, Moses, Peter, John – all the ‘greats’ of the Bible – they all had their failures, their times when sin reared its ugly head. Only one person lived a perfect and sinless life. While upright and blameless is the goal as we follow Jesus, it is not anything we can achieve 100% of the time. In the same way, our prayers cannot be perfect. But they can be like David’s is today in Psalm 26: honest, sincere, heartfelt, desiring of God and God’s action in our lives. Our prayers, our desires, the hopes of our hearts – may we pour them out to the Lord our God, the one who loves to hear the children praying.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this honest look at prayer. It’s good to be reminded that you just love the conversation with us. It doesn’t have to be all beautiful and polished. That’s ok. But you want it as we feel it, as we honestly pour it out to you. Stammering, stumbling, halting, run-ons – none of that matters to you. Thank you for desiring and hearing our prayers just as they are, no matter what. Amen.


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Faithful One

Reading: Job 2:1-10

Verse 5: “Stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Photo credit: Stormseeker

In today’s passage from Job the angels again gather before God. God inquires again of the accuser concerning Job. Even through massive losses and the associated grief, Job “still maintains his integrity.” Job still holds onto his faith in the God who gives and takes away. He has gotten through the first test. Satan notes that “a man will give all he has for his own life.” The accuser is pushing harder against God and Job’s faith, saying, “Stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

God allows Satan to afflict Job’s body. A mourning and destitute Job is soon covered in painful sores head to toe. Instead of cursing God, though, he turns to the ash pile. Here he can pour out his grief for the deaths of his children. Yes, losing one’s livelihood is difficult, but losing one’s child is deeply personal and painful. For Job it is times ten. They were his “flesh and bone.” In verse nine Job’s wife enters the picture. She too has been piled upon by grief. She too has been deeply pained. Echoing God’s words in verse three she asks if he is still maintaining his integrity. Is he still upright and blameless? Or is he just putting up a good front? This additional affliction to Job is more than she can take. She just wants it all to be over with, telling her husband to “curse God and die.” The wife is at a place many of us come to. One more grief that has been added to a pile of grief feels like more than we can take. We begin to crumble. Our faith begins to quake. Although she is probably not ready to hear it at this moment, Job speaks truth to her.

In response, Job calls attention to her faltering faith and then asks, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” This mirrors his understanding of a God who both gives and takes away. It reflects his faith that God is in control. Job has been holding onto his faith and invites his wife to do the same. In the midst of trials it is good to remember the ways that God has been steadfast and true in the past. We remind ourselves of God’s love to buoy our faith up so that we can lean into our faith. When we too find ourselves afflicted or grieved or hard pressed, may we too remember God’s faithfulness and love. Doing so, our faith will be strengthened as we once again trust into God. In the trial, may it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God, thank you for the reminder today to lean into you, the faithful one, when life becomes hard. Through my past experiences when you have walked by my side, whisper your love into my heart again and again. All praise and glory to you, faithful one! Amen.


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A Faithful Journey

Reading: Mark 9: 42-50

Verse 47: “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown in hell.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Today’s portion of our passage from Mark 9 has some hard words. Being thrown into the sea with a large stone tied around us, cutting off hands and feet, poking out eyes – these actions seem so harsh, so cruel. But the actions themselves are not at the heart of what Jesus is emphasizing. Jesus’ point is the price we will pay if we keep on sinning. So, yes, we would be better off in this life without a hand or foot or eye than to be whole and cast into hell. Jesus is reminding us that we should do whatever we can to be faithful disciples.

There are, of course, other things that cause us to sin. What our mouths allow into our bodies can cause us to sin. What our hearts and minds allow into these decision-making and influencing centers can cause great harm to our faith and witness. With whom and where we choose to spend our time and resources can lead to destructive behaviors. There is much that can negatively affect our ability to be faithful disciples. To all of these negative choices and habits and to any others that we can name, Jesus says, ‘Stop!’

Instead we are invited to keep a careful watch on our inner, human self. We are encouraged to be aware of those things that inhibit or adversely affect our walk with Jesus Christ. This is another way to call us to die to self and to take up our cross. There is usually a cost to walking away from destructive friends and habits. There is a price to pay when we place God and others before self. Yet how great is the reward. A life centered on love and humble service fills us with joy and peace and hope. And how beautiful and amazing heaven will be!

We will all be “salted with fire.” If we are faithful and true the fire will be refining and not consuming. As we consider Jesus’ words this day, may they spur us on to a faithful journey of faith. Each day may we shine forth the light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, guard my heart and my mind, my mouth, my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears… Guard all of me, Lord! By the power of the Holy Spirit guard me from the attacks of the evil one. By that same Holy Spirit power, guide me to walk in your ways each day. Amen.


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Faithful Responding

Reading: Proverbs 22: 8-9 and 22-23

Verses 22-23: “Do not exploit the poor… for the Lord will take up their cause.”

Photo credit: Spencer Davis

In our passage from Proverbs the focus remains in those with and those without. Care and concern for the poor and needy is a very common theme throughout the scriptures. In the Law are provisions for the least of these – laws about not harvesting every single head of grain so there was still some left for the needy and guidelines for welcoming in the alien and stranger in your midst. Verse nine illustrates well the understanding of this charge to care for those in need: “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” Blessings come from living out the heart of God.

Today we tend to see the care of the needy and poor one of two ways: that’s someone else’s job (either the governments or the pastors) or… here’s some money to help with that. Both approaches fail to comprehend the heart of God and the way we are called to truly care for those in need. Solomon did not say the generous man gave food to the poor. He shared his food with the poor. This implies sitting at the table together, sharing both food and time with one another. In a similar way the guidelines mentioned above implied opening your door and welcoming the other into your home to share in your generous hospitality. The heart of God is all about relationships and walking together with those that God places in our path and on our hearts.

In verses 22 and 23 we hear both a caution and a warning: “Do not exploit the poor… for the Lord will take up their cause.” The poor and needy tend to be powerless and voiceless. They are easy targets for some to take advantage of and for others to simply ignore. Jesus calls us to do just the opposite. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), for example, the plight of the man in need is the focus. The one who cared for the man in need is the one whom Jesus called us to “go and do likewise.” In our lives the voice or nudge of the Holy Spirit often reminds us of our call to care for such as these. This is the Lord taking up their cause. So when the Spirit speaks may we be faithful in responding to the need before us. Doing so we will not only bless the other but we will be blessed ourselves.

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, your love for me is no more or no less than your love for my neighbor. Your care and concern for me is the same as your care and concern for the one far from you. Open my heart to live out these truths: all are loved, all are worthy and valued, all deserve to be cared for. With an open and willing heart, guide my hands and feet today. Amen.


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Anointed by God

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 and 6-9

Verse 2: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace”.

Photo credit: Fulvio Ciccolo

Psalm 45 is a song about a king that will soon marry his bride. Although we do not know for sure, Solomon could certainly be the king – he was wise and was part of the Davidic line that reigns forever. The verses we read today are focused on the qualities of the king and of God. These qualities are ones we too should model to the world.

Verse two connects God’s blessings to the king’s character: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace”. Being touched by and covered in God’s grace, the king has been blessed. In the next three verses, which we did not read today, the blessing comes in victories in battles with his enemies. We too experience such blessings. God often intervenes in our lives, saving us from this situation or that threat. Some of the time we notice. Once we kneel at the throne of grace and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives, we too are anointed with God’s blessings.

In verses six through nine the psalmist turns his attention and addresses God. Acknowledging that God will reign forever, the writer recognizes that justice will be “the scepter of the kingdom”. The call for equality, the charge to welcome all into God’s family, and the mission to care for the least of these all flow out of God’s love of justice. Continuing on in the passage, next God’s righteousness is exalted. Because of God’s steadfast and faithful love, God sets his “companions” above all others as they are anointed with the “oil of joy”. Those who walk faithfully and obediently with God are set apart – both here on earth as well as for an eternal inheritance – bringing them joy and hope. To be in the family of God is a great blessing.

Just as the king in our Psalm has his heart set on God, may we too set our hearts on God. Walking step by step with God, we too will be anointed with oil and our cups will overflow with God’s blessings. Living out love, righteousness, hope, joy, and justice, may we witness our faith in the everlasting God to the world.

Prayer: God, you love justice and mercy and grace. Your righteous one modeled how to live these things out in love. Guide me to follow well in his footsteps, caring for the least of these and for the sheep of your flock, flinging wide open the gate. May all I say and do and think bring you the glory. Amen.


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Careful and Wise

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Verse 15: “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

In today’s passage Paul touches on a very familiar theme in scripture: how one lives. The church in Ephasus was mostly made up of Gentiles. They would not have grown up in the church or in the Jewish faith. The ways of the world would be their norm. But as it had been since the first strokes of the Law were recorded in Moses’ day, God’s people were to be set apart or to be different from the world. Our passage today begins with these words: “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity”.

Paul often contrasts wise lives with foolish living. The words he chose could very well have been ‘obedient’ versus ‘sinful’ or ‘godly’ versus ‘worldly’. Paul encourages those in the churches in and around Ephasus to “understand what the Lord’s will is”. For Paul this understanding will lead to wise or faithful or godly living. The Christian traits that Paul has been developing in chapters four and five are humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, honesty, compassion, and forgiveness. When one lives out these traits in the world, others will be drawn to the faith. The world will be curious about the joy, love, peace, and hope shining out from the Christians they encounter. This attraction will allow us to make “the most of every opportunity” as we share our faith with a world in need.

Verse fifteen continues to speak to us today. To be wise in how we live covers so many areas. It has grown far beyond how we act at the bar on a Friday night or how we gossip at the local coffee shop. How we Christians act and represent ourselves on social media immediately comes to mind. Too many turn from posting a scripture quote to posts condemning or railing against this person or that group and then back to posting a cute little faith meme. If this is our practice then the value of our witness is quickly lost to the eyes of the world. The long-held critiques of Christianity are soon heard once again: hypocrite, judgmental, condemning…

My friends may we be careful in how we live. May we be wise and not unwise. Doing so we will be able to make the most of our opportunities to share and witness to the faith we live. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be wise in how I live, guiding me ever with the voice of the Holy Spirit. May the Spirit’s conviction draw me up short whenever I am tempted to speak or share unwise or hurtful things. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Steadfast Forever

Reading: Psalm 111

Verse 7: “The works of God’s hands are faithful and just; all of God’s precepts are trustworthy”.

Psalm 111 begins with praise to God. The psalmist praises God for the great works and glorious and majestic deeds done for the people Israel. As followers of the Lord we too can praise God for the ways in which God has worked in our lives. The psalmist celebrates the manna in the desert and the victories over their enemies. For the Israelites, these are examples of God living into the covenants. As believers we can recall times when God has provided needed food or other resources at just the right time. We can remember those experiences when God has led us or even carried us through a time of trial. We too have come to know how faithful God is to those who love God.

Verse seven connects the ‘why’ we praise God with the ‘how to’ of knowing this God. Here we read, “The works of God’s hands are faithful and just; all of God’s precepts are trustworthy”. In the Israelite world there was a perceived connection between obedience to God and being blessed by God. As Christians we believe that God is trustworthy, steadfast, faithful, and upright. We believe that God provided redemption for us through his son Jesus Christ. We too live with fear (or reverence) of God and seek to be obedient to God’s will and ways. Yes, to God belongs eternal praise! But as Christians we do not see an illness or a difficult loss or diagnosis as evidence of our unfaithfulness. We do not connect conflict at work or at school as a sign of a lack of faith. Instead of these trials being evidence of sin or other failings in our faith, we recognize them as opportunities to draw closer to God, to rely more on God’s strength or peace or guidance or comfort or… Jesus promises to be with us always, to never leave or forsake us, assuring us that we will never be alone. God is steadfast forever. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Loving and faithful God, in the good days and in the bad days, you have always been there. You are there in the ordinary and in the routine. Thank you for being with me in all things. You are an amazing and wonderful God! Amen.


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Amazing Things

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-14

Verses 13-14: “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son”.

Yesterday we looked at David’s desire to build God a house as an expression of his gratitude to God. The prophet Nathan readily agreed initially. But in a vision that night God reveals much bigger plans. This is often the way of God. Even in our small lives God will do amazing things if we are but willing servants.

I’m sure that what David would build for God would be grand and most impressive. But all earthly things will fade or crumble or cease to exist. A building is David’s plan for God, the eternal one. After reminding David that he and Israel are where they are at because of God alone, God extends these blessings, saying, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son”. The line of David will be forever blessed. His son Solomon will build a magnificent temple, yes. But the kingdom will last forever. That is a promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ, God’s Son born of the line of David.

What a contrast between the plans of a man and the plans of God! It seemed like such a great idea to build God a house. And then God took ahold of it and applied God sized vision to it, doing amazing things. It makes me wonder, what small God-honoring plan do I have that God might just blow up to create or do something being my imagination? What plans are you laying out that God could grab ahold of and go and go? Like David, when we are but faithful and willing servants, God can and will do amazing things. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of all things, the works of your hands and the expressions of your faithfulness amaze me. Your plans are far beyond my small imagination and my too often guarded faith. Help me to be more faithful, more trusting, more willing. Amen.