pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Perseverance in Prayer

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.”

Today we begin the story of Samuel. The story, of course, begins with his mother Hannah. As the story begins we learn that Hannah cannot have any children because “the Lord had closed her womb.” Children were a sign of God’s blessing. The other wife, Peninnah, had many sons and daughters. Because of Hannah’s barrenness, the husband Elkanah would give her a double portion. This attempt to show her love did nothing to alleviate Hannah’s grief and suffering. It did intensify the rivalry between Hannah and Peninnah. In verses six and seven we read that Peninnah provoked and irritated Hannah year after year.

Have you ever prayed for something year after year after year? Have you ever endured long suffering? If so, you understand Hannah’s hardship. Year after year she prayed. Year after year. At times she must have wondered if God was listening. At times she must have wondered why her suffering and barrenness must go on and on. We’ve all prayed and prayed for relief, for healing, for a change… and have had these questions, these doubts.

One year Elkanah and the family travel to Shiloh to worship at the temple. Alone in her thoughts we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” Hannah prays from deep within her heart, from deep within her place of pain. The priest Eli questions her sobriety. Explaining that she was praying “out of my great grief and anguish”, Eli offers her a blessing from the Lord.

Hannah does indeed find favor with God as she becomes pregnant and has a son. Hannah’s steadfast faith and perseverance in prayer bears fruit. The thing she most desired was given as a blessing from God. May we, like Hannah, persevere in our prayers, trusting in the God who hears us and who loves us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in the waiting, keep me focused on you. As time lengthens out remind me to trust into your plans. I know your timing is not always my timing. Guide me to walk faithfully day by day, knowing you are good. Amen.


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“Home” to God

Reading: Ruth 1: 1-6

Verse 6: “When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of God’s people… Naomi prepared to return home.

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

Today we get the back story of what we studied yesterday – Ruth claiming Naomi, her people, and her God. We learn that it was a famine in Judah that led Naomi, her husband, and two sons to move to Moab. They settled there and made a life for themselves. The father dies and the two sons marry Moabite women, becoming further connected to this foreign land. Even though now a widow, Naomi is still surrounded by her sons and new daughters-in-law. After ten years both sons die. In verse six we again read, “When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of God’s people… Naomi prepared to return home.

When we move someplace new we settle in, make new friends, find a church home. We become connected and form relationships. For many of us, though, there is a sense that “home” is still back there somewhere. Maybe that place is where we were born and grew up. Maybe that place is where we raised our children. I think this is what Naomi felt about Bethlehem in Judah. They had moved to find food. We move to find employment, to live where our new spouse lives, to go to college…

After these three losses Naomi hears that God has provided once again for Judah. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law prepare to move to Judah. It is a reset for Naomi. She can leave behind this place associated with grief and death. We too can want to leave these places of hurt to return home, to where we feel loved and cared for and connected. Judah is also the place that God dwells – for Naomi and the people of this time. To return to Judah is also to connect with God. We too do this in our times of suffering and loss. We connect to God and to God’s people, finding comfort and care in the family of God. We too come “home” to God.

Prayer: God, your door is always open. Your love always calls out to us. Home is a place we find shelter from the storms of life. Thank you for friends and family that also love on us in our times of need. Thank you for your open arms that always embrace us. 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.


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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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The Gift of Life

Reading: 2nd Samuel 18: 31-33

Verse 33: “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As we continue in 2nd Samuel 18 David awaits news of Absalom and the battle. The first report has come from Ahimaz in the proceeding verses. He shares that David’s forces were victorious. But he shares no news of Absalom. In our passage the Cushite arrives and answers David’s inquiry about Absalom with these words: “May the enemies of my lord and king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man”. The Cushite is excited and joyous over the victory that has been won. David’s response is different.

In verse 33 we read, “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept”. David, the father, is heartbroken. David, the king, cannot celebrate the victory that has ended the civil war. David, the lord, cannot welcome home those who have fought hard for this day. The grief is too great. Grief can be consuming. It can paralyze us. Grief can isolate us. It can leave us feeling empty inside. David can do nothing but immediately withdraw and weep for his son. He expresses the desire to trade places with Absalom – to give his own life for the one he loves. David is not alone in this feeling.

Many years later one from David’s line will give his life to save others from the chains of sin and death. God’s son Jesus will die in the place of you and me. Death will still come. Grief will still walk among us. Yet hope and faith assure us of life beyond this earth. Thanks be to God for the gift of eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the hope that sustains us in the midst of loss. Wrap us in your arms in those times that we grieve. Remind us of the victory already won. Amen.


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Grieving Loss

Reading: 2nd Samuel 1:1 and 17-27

Verses 24 and 26: “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul… I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother”.

Photo credit: Frank McKenna

Grief knocks on all of our doors. It is a part of life that we all walk through. In our passage today David expresses his grief over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. He pours out his emotions of grief in a song. These words will also allow others to grieve these hard losses.

Songs like “I Can Only Imagine” and hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “In the Garden” come to mind as I consider David’s outpouring of grief. Song has long been a means to process and express our grief. The words remind us of our faith in God as well as offering soothing to our pain and heartache.

As David begins he writes, “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights”. The king and his sons died in battle. “The mighty have fallen”. It is a national loss, one to be grieved corporately. But it is also a personal loss. We can feel David’s grief as he writes, “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul… I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother”. Saul was his king, Jonathan his best friend.

We too have experienced loss. We too have known grief. Saul and Jonathan were “loved and gracious” – worthy of the lament that David offers. We too have lost those who were loved and gracious. This lament of David reminds us of our time in the valley of the shadow of death. As we join David in his lament may we also pause to remember ours who have gone on to glory. As we do, may the Lord bring us comfort.

Prayer: Loving God who is as near as our next breath, wrap us in your arms as we enter lament. May your love enfold us and may your strength carry us. Thank you for your abiding presence. Amen.


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Divine Wisdom

Reading: Psalm 20

Verse 7: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

In Psalm 20 David offers a prayer for military victory over the enemy. He asks for protection, help, and support. He knows that the Lord “saves his anointed”. Although it may seem different to pray for victory in battle, I think most of us ask God to grant us victory pretty regularly. It may be victory over an addiction or a sin we’ve been struggling with. It may be to receive that promotion over the competition or to find the right home in the right neighborhood. It may be to feel progress in our grief or to put depression or stress or anxiety behind us. It may be for physical healing or spiritual wholeness.

David bases his prayer request on his faithful walk with God. He does not need to introduce himself to God before kneeling in prayer. David has sacrificed for God, he has come to the altar with gifts, he has been anointed or blessed by God. He is praying from a place of deep relationship with God. When we lift our petitions to the Lord our God do we come from the same place as David? Do we seek to have the heart of God within us through prayer and study and worship? Do we regularly talk with God so that we have an intimate and personal relationship? Do we sense, invite, and follow the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit?

In verse seven we read, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”. David differentiates his prayer and desires from the ways of the world. Those kings who rely on chariots and horses or on jets and tanks or on economic might or political alliances are relying on earthly power. David relies on heavenly power to gain victory over the enemy. His trust is built on his faithful walk and alignment with God’s will and ways. When we pray for the desires of our hearts or even for the needs we have do we do so from a place of divine Wisdom and connection? If so, we too will “rise up and stand firm”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, in those moments of quiet, still my voice and draw me into your holy presence. Tune my ears and my heart to the soft whisper of your voice. Lead me to walk in your will and in your ways. Amen.


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A Friend

Reading: John 15: 12-15

Verse 12: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

As we continue in our passage from John 15 our focus shifts slightly. We look at how our relationship with Jesus informs our relationships with others. Love remains the centerpiece. Understanding yesterday’s call to agape love – that unconditional and often undeserved love – Jesus calls us today to live out that love just as he did. In our opening verse Jesus says, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”. It is a command not just to love the other as the world does but to love the other as Jesus loves us.

Imagine that the father of a young family living two doors down died unexpectedly. You buy a gift card from a local restaurant, slip it inside a nice sympathy card, and tuck it in their mailbox. That is loving as the world loves. You have chatted with them on your walks so you know them a little bit. You make the kids’ favorite meal and bring it over to the house. You help a shaken mom get the kids fed and you clean up as she gets them ready for bed. You hang around to see what else she needs – prayer, someone to listen, someone to watch the kids while she goes to the funeral home… You show up tomorrow and each next day as long as needed. This is loving as Christ loves. This is laying down one’s life for the other.

When we truly love as Jesus loves us, when we follow his commands, we are living out his agape love. We are not so much serving Jesus as we are being his hands and feet and heart in the world. When we live this way, Jesus calls us “friend” instead of servant. When we learn and internalize all that Jesus has passed along from the Father, we become a true friend of Jesus. It becomes natural to care well for that family two doors down. It becomes our rhythm of life to step into opportunities to share Jesus’ love. Loving like Jesus becomes who and what we are. Day by day may he become more of each of us.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for calling me friend. I want to be more, to be just like you – loving one and all without condition, without reserve. Continue to prune and shape me, molding and forming me more and more into your image. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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Seeking

Reading: Acts 8: 32-40

Verse 35: “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”.

As we continue today in Acts 8 we see how the opportunity that God provided for Philip impacted the Ethiopian eunuch. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip was invited to sit with the eunuch in order to explain these verses from Isaiah 53. The prophet writes of a man who was killed – “led like a sheep to the slaughter”. The eunuch asks, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else”? There is a desire burning inside the eunuch to know more.

In verse 35 we read, “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”. Beginning with this messianic prophecy, Philip tells the good news of Jesus Christ to the eunuch. We do not know what all Philip taught the man. Did he include other Old Testament prophecies? Did he include the birth stories? Did Philip just begin at the point that he himself encountered Jesus? What story did he use to plant the seeds of a desire to be baptized? Whatever Philip taught the eunuch must have been filled with compassion and personal belief. Led still by the Holy Spirit, Philip connected the eunuch to Jesus Christ and the new life offered through a relationship with Jesus.

We too will encounter people that are seeking. Some will be like the eunuch, seeking Jesus. Seeds already planted will be ready to blossom into faith. Here we guide them in their final steps into a relationship with Jesus. Some will be seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. With these we will need to model and eventually teach how and why Jesus is the only thing that fills that hole in their soul. Some seekers will be hurting or broken or lost, knowing that they have a need but are unable to identify or name it. They just know they want out of that valley. Working through the pain or grief will proceed any obvious steps of faith. Pouring God’s love and compassion and comfort into their lives will help bring healing and wholeness. These are but a few of the people we will encounter if we are listening to the Holy Spirit, if we are seeking to be used by God.

Like Philip did with the eunuch, may we meet the person right before us where they are, ministering to them as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Doing so, we too will share the good news of Jesus Christ, drawing others closer to our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart to see the ones you place before me today. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, guide my words and actions. Use me to build your kingdom today. Amen.


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Rejoice and Rest

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 5: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows”.

Photo credit: Ronnie Khan

The words we read today are such familiar words. When one hears, “The Lord is my shepherd”, we are brought immediately to a good and sacred place. The Psalm speaks of our relationship with God throughout all of life’s joys and trials. These words of David bring us comfort and strength, assurance and guidance, blessing and presence.

Our good shepherd is not a distant holiness that is non-committal. God is right here, right now. When we are weary, God makes us lie down and brings us restoration. God walks with us, ever guiding us in all righteousness. In those moments or seasons of pain and grief, God is present in the valley. When fear arises, God comforts us. Even in the presence of our enemies God anoints us with the oil of blessing. In the presence of our enemies, the rivers of God’s love and mercy and grace can still make a way. Filling our lives here with goodness and love, God will also one day welcome us to dwell in his forever home too. What beautiful words and thoughts.

Today may we rejoice in the love of the good shepherd. Today may we rest in his presence.

Prayer: Lord, your love is so incredible. You are our all in all – present when we are weak and strong, loving us when we please you and when we fail. Thank you, Lord! Amen.