pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Bold and Trusting

Reading: Jeremiah 32:8-15

Verses 8-9: “I knew this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth.”

As the Babylonians besiege the city, Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel comes to him, just as God had foretold, to sell Jeremiah his field. Jeremiah was also under house arrest for prophesying against the king and for speaking of Babylon’s great victory over Judah. Instead of waiting to see how all of this plays out, Jeremiah buys the field. He buys it just as he has prophesied – boldly and in full public view. There is a witness and lots of people present to see this “crazy” purchase. But this is just Jeremiah being Jeremiah. He is fully trusting in God, just as he has always done. To put a stamp on it, in verse 15 he says, “For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” What feels like doomsday, what feels like the end, it’s not. Israel’s story will continue again one day.

Where in our world or in our lives might God be asking us to act with the same boldness and trust? What feels like it might be coming to an end that God can give new life to? Maybe it is a chapter in your work life. This calls for trust that one door will open as another is closing. Maybe it is a loss you’ve endured. This calls for brave steps forward into your “new normal.” Maybe it is an injustice that’s been happening for too long. You feel a call to speak truth and to redeem this situation. Maybe it is something stirring that you can’t quite identify. This calls for prayer. Whatever or wherever God is calling you or I to, may we be as bold and trusting as Jeremiah.

Prayer: Lord God, how do you desire to use me? What bold and perhaps crazy step of faith are you calling me to? Empower me, fill me with a holy courage. Guide me into your will and purposes. Amen.


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Ever Trust

Reading: Psalm 31:9-16

Verses 14-16: “But I trust in you, O Lord… My times are in your hands… save me in your unfailing love.”

In Psalm 31 David comes to God in a time of great distress, sorrow, and grief. It is a place most of us have been, so we can relate to David’s emotions. Some of us are there now, so we can feel David’s emotions. At times life causes our strength to fail and our bodies to grow weak. Our emotions exert a toll on our bodies. And maybe, like David, you too experienced or are experiencing a loss of friends during your time of suffering.

We walk through experiences of distress, sorrow, grief, loss, change over and over as we live our lives. Doing so we grow and we are equipped by God to walk with others as they experience these things. Just as we all remember this person or that person who was there for us, offering compassion or presence or support during our trial or suffering, we too can be that person for others.

Our passage today concludes with these words from verses 14-16: “But I trust in you, O Lord… My times are in your hands… save me in your unfailing love.” David first trusts in God. God is good and kind and loving. Trust in God. He then acknowledges that his time is in God’s hands. No one else is in control. No one. Acknowledging this truth releases it all to God. After asking God’s face to shine upon his (to be present to him), David asks for God to act in his unfailing love. This circles back around to trusting God and to acknowledging that God alone is in control. As we experience difficult times and as we choose to walk with others in difficult times, may we ever trust in our sovereign, all-powerful, loving God.

Prayer: Lord God, in your great love you guide us and you walk with us. All you have for us is for and by your purposes and plans. Help me to ever trust in your love, today and every day. Amen.


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Consider As Loss

Reading: Philippians 3:4b-10

Verse 8: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.”

As we begin these two days in Philippians 3 we begin with the battle between God’s ways and the ways of the world. Paul begins today’s verses with all list of credentials. This list would place him in the top 1 or 2% of all religious leaders in Israel. It would be like someone today saying they got their undergrad at Stanford, their masters at Yale, their doctorate at Harvard. And, oh ya, they’re the Super Bowl MVP and have won the world chess championship six years running. As Saul, Paul’s life was built around who he was according to titles and worldly standards. In the church world we build a list like this: haven’t missed a Sunday in four years, read my Bible every day for at least an hour, serve on two committees, have been on six mission trips… All places have boxes to check.

Paul turns the corner in verse 7. He begins by saying, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” All those words, all those titles – they were holding him back from really knowing Jesus Christ. In verse 8 he continues, saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.” Nothing compares to knowing Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. All these titles, all these credentials, all this box checking – “I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.” Rubbish!

Paul learned that faith and righteousness come not from titles or credentials or checking off boxes. It’s not about who you are. It is all about whose you are. That’s a difficult transition – from who to whose. All around us we hear that who we are matters. So, in our lives, what titles or other “who we are” things limit our relationship with Jesus Christ? He desires to be our Lord and Savior. What do we need to consider as loss for the sake of gaining Christ?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to look within, to see that which I cling to for my identity, for my worth. Give me the courage to strip away the things that I need to in order to know Jesus Christ my Lord better. Amen.


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Shine Upon Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “Hear us, O shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s reading from Psalm 80 is a great plea for God’s presence and for God’s power to be manifest in our lives. It is a good plea for us to read, to consider, to pray over ourselves as we walk through Advent this year. Advent calls us to slow down, to become present to the Christ child in the manger, to focus our lives on the gift of Emmanuel, God with us. Christmas, on the other hand, calls for celebrations and parties, for rush, rush, rush. In the Psalm a phrase is repeated three different times. Against the worldly rush of Christmas, we pray this verse over ourselves today: “Restore us, O Lord God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”

In verses one and two we read the psalmist’s plea: “Hear us, O shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us.” The writer recognizes Israel’s need for one who will be like a shepherd – one who will lead and guide the flock. He pleads for God to “come and save us.” In power and might Jesus will come and save the people. Just as the notions of Advent and Christmas are different, soo to was Jesus’ revelation of power and might. He demonstrated power in love of God and neighbor. He revealed might in his obedience to God’s will and ways. This is how the Good Shepherd reigns. It is into this kingdom that we are invited – both to receive and to give away.

As we enter the third week of Advent, it is the week of joy. All of us can struggle to keep our focus on Jesus Christ, the Messiah, during this season. For some of us loss or grief feels heavy. For some it is busyness and expectations that limit our joy. What is it that is inhibiting your joy? What can you name right now that you need God’s light to shine upon, leading you towards restoration and wholeness this Advent season?

Prayer: Lord God, each of us needs your light to shine a little brighter into our lives. Shepherd, reveal our need and guide us to humbly ask you to restore us and to renew our sense of joy. May your face shine upon us; be gracious to us, O Lord. 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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Faith Over Fear, Trust Over Anger

Reading: Job 1:1

Verse 1: “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”

Photo credit: Humble Lamb

Today we begin a brief tour through the book of Job. Over these next four weeks the lectionary touches on four sections of Job, inviting us into his story. As we will see, Job’s story is our story too. We all experience hardship, the testing or questioning of our faith, the realization of God’s power and might, and restoration and contentment through our relationship with the Almighty. Job is not an easy read – yet it invites us into a deeper faith in our loving, covenant God.

The prologue I opening section begins with these words: “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Job was a person that we all want to be. As followers of Jesus Christ we all want to be blameless and we all want to live an upright life. As we consider these desires we must also acknowledge the reality of failing to always be these things. Job feared God – had a holy reverence for the Lord – and he shunned evil. Job worshipped God and did his best to avoid the evils of this world. We spend time each week worshipping God and we avoid those places and people that can lead to evil taking root and giving birth to sin in our lives. In these ways and others that we will find as we progress through these readings, we will come to see Job as an example of faith.

Job was also blessed – ten children, thousands of animals, many servants. He was watchful over his children and their behavior. In the remainder of chapter one Job faces his first test of faith. God allows Satan, the accuser, to test Job’s faith by affecting everything but Job’s life. All the animals are carried off or burned and then all of his children die in a violent wind. Job worships God, acknowledging God as the giver and taker and as the one worthy of his praise. He chooses not to blame God. Job chooses faith over fear, trust over anger. May we so grow in our faith that we can do the same when hardship and suffering visit our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, build up my faith day by day, establishing a firm foundation to stand upon when the trials and difficulties arise. Lead me to lean into you when I find myself in the valleys. 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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The Wilderness

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-3

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Psalm 107 is a Psalm that reminds us of God’s faithful love. It is a song of thanksgiving to the God that never abandons or leaves his people. The Israelites and individuals within the faith community have experienced this faithful love. The nation has experienced exile, slavery, and times of oppression and conflict with those living around them. Individuals like Joseph, David, Samuel, and Job have had their own wilderness experiences. Each time that the community has found themselves in the wilderness, whatever that may be, God has remained present and connected to his people. At times the connection was to a small remnant, but God was always faithful. Experiencing this over and over has led them to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

As we experience life we also find ourselves in the wilderness from time to time. We find ourselves there in many ways. Loss and grief can lead us into the wilderness. Moving, job loss, and other forms of unwanted change can lead us to this place. Sudden bouts of physical or mental illness can take us to the place of isolation and fear. Yes, there are many ways that we can find ourselves in the wilderness. If we choose to remain connected to God, then we experience what the psalmist and the Israelites experienced. God remains present. God sustains us. God’s faithful love endures the trials with us. From these experiences we too can proclaim: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, your love is grander than the mountains and deeper than the ocean’s depths. Your faithfulness stretches past the furthest star. I am but a tiny speck in the cosmos, but you love me as if I were the only speck. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Eternity Awaits

Reading: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13

Verses 10 and 11: “I have seen the burden God has laid on man. He has made everything beautiful in its time”.

Ecclesiastes 3 is a familiar passage. Most of the passage is about the seasons in life, laid out in a series of contrasts. A time to plant… to uproot. A time to weep… to laugh. A time to keep… to throw away. Verses ten and eleven sum up the passage well: “I have seen the burden God has laid on man. He has made everything beautiful in its time”. Life has both burdens and beauty, sorrows and joys. All people, believers and non-believers alike, live within these realities – birth and death, mourning and dancing, love and hate, war and peace…

This year has been different, unlike any other in our lifetimes. These pandemic times have affected all people – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, men and women, believers and non-believers. Illness and loss and grief have been born by all kinds of people and families. Yet not all is the same. Within the hearts of those with a saving faith there is a different peace, a different hope, a different strength. The rest of verse eleven reads, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of man”. For those who believe in Jesus Christ, we know that the burdens and beauty, the sorrows and joys are but temporary. None of these things that Solomon writes about in Ecclesiastes 3 are the end of the story. Eternity awaits us all. For those who believe, our eternity rests in God’s hands. Thank be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, life is filled with many experiences – some joyful, some full of pain. Seasons come and go; this one that we are in the midst of will one day be a memory too. You are the constant. You remain love and hope and strength. All honor and glory are yours. Amen.