pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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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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As I Should

Reading: Ephesians 6: 18-20

Verse 18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”.

Photo credit: Ben White

We began in Ephesians on Friday, looking at the call to put on the full armor of God in order to stand firm against the attacks of the devil. Yesterday we continued on, looking at the many pieces of armor that Paul suggests, each representing an aspect or trait of our faith. Paul included a belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, and sword. He did not but could have added gauntlets of grace or the wineskin of forgiveness. Paul could have included kneepads or shin guards of prayer. Today’s passage, in fact, does cover prayer, one of our greatest weapons against the evil one.

In verse eighteen Paul writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”. Paul encourages us to pray in the Spirit because then we align our will with God’s will; we pray in accordance with God’s ways. Paul also tells us to pray on all occasions – in the good times, in the bad times, and all the times in between. The apostle also wants us to pray broadly and generously – “with all kinds” of petitions and prayers. Lift all things to God!

After encouraging us to “be alert” and to pray for the saints or leaders of the church, Paul asks for personal prayers. Under house arrest, awaiting trial before Caesar, he does not pray for freedom or vindication. These prayers would not be in alignment with God’s will. Paul prays for more opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ, the “mystery of the gospel”. This is why he is now an “ambassador in chains”. And he asks for prayers to do this more, even to “proclaim it fearlessly, as I should”. Let us not miss those last three words. No matter the cost, no matter the consequences, no matter what, Paul sought to proclaim Christ, “as I should”. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, it is greatly encouraging to consider the witness to the faith that Paul lived out always. Guide and lead me to live out such a faith. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit use me to lift up Jesus. Amen.


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Pray, Speak, Stand

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-5

Verse 2: “One evening David got up… walked around on the roof… saw a woman bathing”.

Photo credit: Joshua Oluwagbemiga

Today we enter one of the uglier stories in the Bible. The story begins with a bad decision and spirals down from there. David decides to stay home when the army goes off to war instead of leading them into battle. But a king can do what a king wants to do. Then one night he can’t sleep. In verse two we read, “One evening David got up… walked around on the roof… saw a woman bathing”. His eyes and heart wander. He spies a very beautiful woman bathing. Lust is born. As the story unfolds one of his servants asks, “Isn’t that Bathsheba… Uriah’s wife”? Hint, hint. But a king can do what a king wants to do. David sends for her and sleeps with her. Forced himself upon her is the much, much more likely reality. David is finished with her and sends her back home. It is an ugly story that ends with an unexpected pregnancy.

On Sunday in church we talked about breaking down walls and about standing with the abused, oppressed, taken advantage of… We would have loved to have been there and to have stood up for Bathsheba. We think we would have stood and shouted, “No more of this ‘But a king can do what a king wants to do’ stuff”! Yet today people with power continue to force their way, to coerce others, to play by their own set of rules. Naming realities helps to break down walls. Sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation are still alive and well. One of the top sex trafficking events in the US will take place just up the road in a couple of weeks. I believe the Sturgis Rally is second only to the Super Bowl. Most of us are appalled by and disgusted by the story of David and Bathsheba. Are we equally so when we recognize that sex trafficking and pornography are huge business in our nation?

Just as those in David’s palace should have stood up for and then cared for Bathsheba, so too must we pray for and speak for and stand with those who are exploited and used by others. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, we peak today at the ugliness of a person in power forcing his way. Hold our eyes and hearts for a few moments; help us to connect to Bathsheba. Then turn our eyes and hearts to the ugly realities of today. Money and power and lust still lead to ugliness today. Guide us all to do what we can – some to pray, some to speak, some to stand with the victims. May your love bring healing to the brokenness of our world and lives. Amen.


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His Plan

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-14a

Verse 2: “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As King David has time to reflect – God has settled him in the palace and has given him “rest from all his enemies” – he thinks of his home and God’s home. David lives in a beautiful palace of cedar and God Almighty lives in a tent. This strikes David as wrong. Consulting with Nathan the prophet a decision is made to build God a proper home. Then, in the night, God says, ‘Hold on a minute’.

Have you ever been down this road? Have you ever thought you’d do something nice for God – without asking God? God speaks to Nathan in a vision and he relays it to David. God basically says, ‘When did I ask for a house’? The short answer is ‘never’. God then turns the tables, reminding David that God is in charge. He’s the one who took David from shepherd to king, from pasture to palace.

When have you felt like doing something for God because God has blessed you or because you were comfortable? Or… when have you thought you should do something for God because you felt guilty about the above? It is a fine line, isn’t it?

I think David’s heart was in the right place. Realizing all that God had done for him, he wanted to express his thanks. We find ourselves here too. Sometimes we will be moved by the Spirit to offer an act of kindness or some other expression of gratitude. If not and we feel as David did, let us begin with prayer, seeking the will of God. It will then be according to his plan, not ours. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, keep me closely connected to you. Whisper to me through the Holy Spirit, respond to bended knee. Lead and guide me to do your will. Amen.


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Pleading Earnestly

Reading: Mark 5: 21-24

Verse 22: “Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

Today we begin to enter into this week’s passage from Mark 5. Jesus returns to the Jewish side of the lake and is greeted by a large crowd. A man named Jairus is in the crowd. He is one of the leaders at the local synagogue. He has encountered Jesus before. Now he comes to speak with Jesus. In verse 22 we read, “Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him”. What causes us to fall at Jesus’ feet, to plead with Jesus?

For Jairus, his daughter is dying. That would cause any parent to plead earnestly. In the same situation we would pray and pray and pray. And then we would pray some more. We can assume that Jairus has tried everything else to save his daughter. Why else would a respected, well-known Jewish leader come to this Jesus? Jairus is desperate. Jesus is his last and only hope. At least a small part of him believes and hopes that Jesus can “put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live”.

When we get to this point – to the place of desperation – have we tried everything else but deep, intense prayer? Only then do we come to Jesus with belief and hope? Do we approach him, fall at his feet, and plead earnestly? Yes, at times our prayers do get ratcheted up to this level. Yet a faithful walk with Jesus is at its best at a steady, daily, regular pace. May this be the routine of our prayer life, building us up for those times of intimate, powerful, intense prayer. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, may my daily time with you be strengthening and encouraging each day. In steady faith, may I grow in you and in my trust in you. In those moments of great need, may I really lean into you, kneeling upon my rock and my hope. Amen.


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Attentive

Reading: Psalm 130: 1-2

Verse 2: “Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

The Psalm for today begins at a place of need, a place of hurting – “out of the depths”. This is a place that we’ve all prayer from. Whether death or illness or persecution or unwanted change or… we have felt alone and called out in desperation, “Lord, hear my voice”. And then we’ve longed for a response. At times it’s been immediate. God’s presence becomes tangible, the doorbell rings and God has sent someone heading our way, a song comes on the radio. At times we wait a bit. We do not feel abandoned yet we do not have an answer right then. So we keep on praying and then God answers one day – in a text or note or call, in a verse or devotional that we read, in something we hear at church. Most often in these moments we realize that God has been there all along. We just needed eyes to see or ears to hear.

Some of the time, though, it seems to become an extended period feeling alone, isolated, without love or support. We pray along the lines of the psalmist, crying out, “Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications”. Long enough, O God! Hear the words of my prayer, the need of my heart! We think, if you’ll but hear you’ll listen, you’ll respond God, you’ll be attentive to what I want or think I need. In these moments it is hard to trust, to wait on God. Just as God is faithful, so too must we be faithful. We must be diligent in our prayers, faithful in our daily walk with the Lord, attentive to our place within the relationship. In his time, God will respond, he will attend to our prayers. The Lord will not pass us by. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, in my moments of desperation first lift up me trust in you. Remind me of your faithfulness that has come again and again so that I too may be faithful. I trust in you alone. Amen.


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What an Advocate!

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”.

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

In two days many churches will celebrate Pentecost. This day recalls the moment that God’s Spirit filled the first believers. In our passage today Paul unpacks some of what the Spirit does with and for those who believe.

Paul begins by describing our longing to be forever with God. He is speaking of that inherent longing in all of humanity. In the opening verse Paul describes this as all of creation groaning as we “wait eagerly for our adoption… for the redemption of our bodies”. For Paul, this is the ultimate hope we find in our faith – to one day be redeemed fully, to be transformed into our heavenly and forever form. Living in difficult times, often facing persecution and hardship, even death, Paul and his fellow Christians often had to hold onto this hope found in Jesus Christ. At times, in our deepest valleys, we too hold onto the hope of eternal life.

In verse 26 Paul writes, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In the same way that the Spirit raises up hope in our hearts, the Holy Spirit also strengthens and encourages us. Paul also describes how the Spirit goes a step further. When we are so weak (or ill or lonely or sorrowful or upset or…) that we cannot even put our prayer into words, then “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”. When we cannot even form the words, the Holy Spirit prays for us. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts takes over and takes our pleas to God on our behalf. In the moments when we are simply overwhelmed, the Spirit speaks to God for us. When we are as weak as weak can be, the Spirit “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”. To me, it doesn’t get any better than that. The Spirit prays for you and me in alignment with God’s perfect plans for our lives. What an advocate we have! Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for loving me so much that you chose to send your Spirit to dwell in me. Thank you for being willing to know and abide in imperfect and sinful me. That is a deep, deep love. Thank you. Amen.


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In the World

Reading: John 17: 6-19

Verses 16-17: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth”.

Our passage today is a prayer that Jesus prays over his disciples. As one reads the prayer, Jesus’ love for his disciples pours out of his words. There is also a clear sense of the connection to God and of a disconnect from the world. Jesus understands that the disciples are set apart from the world and that this status will cause hardship and persecution.

Jesus has taught the disciples the words that came to him from God and they have accepted these words. They believe Jesus is the Savior and have anchored their relationship in God’s love lived out. They have been transformed. They are now not of the world but are of God – “they are yours”. Jesus prays for this connection and the unity that it brings to continue. In verse eleven he prays, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”. The transformation from being “of God” instead of “of the world” is made clearer in verse fourteen: “They are not of the world any more than I am of the world”. The disciples citizenship is with God eternal.

Yet the disciples remain in the world. Jesus knows the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead so he prays for God to protect the disciples from the “evil one” – the prince of darkness, the ruler of the world’s passions and desires. Jesus asks God to “sanctify” the disciples – to make them holy, to fill them with his light and love. The darkness cannot overcome the light; hatred will never triumph over love. Standing on God’s truths and in his love, all the powers of evil will not prevail against the faithful. Jesus knows these truths, these promises. These remain today. As you and I are sent out into the world, this prayer and these truths cover us. Living in but not of the world, we too belong to God. May we step forth boldly in these promises today!

Prayer: Lord God, you hem me in, you go before me, you are my rear guard. Your abiding presence gives me peace and your unending love builds up my courage. Send me out, use me today. 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.