pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Loving the Outsiders

Reading: Matthew 15: 21-28

Verse 22: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me”.

Today’s passage is one with layers. A simpler version would tell of a woman who came to Jesus and received healing for her daughter. That is the basic story. But our story is layered with cultural prejudice and years of dislike and distrust. The story contains relatively few words between Jesus and the woman and the disciples. It does not get unpacked later in a private moment with the twelve.

By identifying her as a Canaanite woman Matthew is pointing out a barrier. In his world, you were either a Jew or you were not. If you were, you were in. If you were not you were an outsider, a heathen, unclean. Yet she identifies Jesus as “Lord” and as the “Son of David” – she recognizes him as the Messiah, as the Savior of the world. She begs for healing for her daughter. She at least knows that Jesus is a healer. Jesus does not answer her. She persists. What do we make of his silence? Maybe Jesus is testing her sincerity, her level of commitment, her faith. Perhaps he is struggling within with the cultural biases that he grew up with. Or maybe the time is allowed for the disciples’ benefit. The disciples buckle first, asking Jesus to “send her away”. Instead he replies, engaging her while putting her off. Jesus tells her that he came to the Jews only. He is reminding her that she is an outsider. Or… is he reminding the disciples? Or himself? Or us? She begs again.

Jesus adds insult to his next “no”, calling her a “dog”. This is cultural slang for all those below or outside of the pure Jewish religion. It is a degrading and demeaning term. This is not the Jesus we know and love, is it? So we must ask “why?” Is the human inside struggling? Is it to force the disciples to reconsider their own prejudices? They will soon enough be going out into the world of the Gentiles with the good news. Or is it to add emphasis to the healing of the other?

The Canaanite woman sticks to it, noting that “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”. She again identifies Jesus as the One, as the Lord of all, as the master. She does not want to take Jesus from the ones he is sent to, she just wants a little of him too. Her great faith is applauded by Jesus and the daughter is healed.

This is a powerful and complex story of how Jesus loves even the outsider. How will our love reflect his love today?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for this story that challenges and forces my love and welcome a bit wider. Continue to work in me and in my heart, removing all that hinders and limits how I love others. Amen.


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Come

Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15

Verse 4: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me'”.

In Genesis this week we flash forward from chapter 37, when his brothers sold Joseph into slavery. Time has passed and Joseph has been through more trials. But God has been clearly at work and through these experiences a faithful and mature Joseph now stands before his brothers. Now 40, he has risen to the second in command in all of Egypt. Only Pharaoh has more power. What shall Joseph do with these treacherous brothers who now stand powerless before him begging for favor? He has used his power to manipulate them but has done them no harm.

In today’s passage, his emotions finally overtake Joseph. He can play the game no longer. He feels his brothers are still family and they have proven themselves to now be good and honest. After clearing the room of all the Egyptians, Joseph weeps loudly. He is releasing much pent up emotion. He weeps so loudly that those outside the room can hear him. It is a gut wrenching, shaking all over kind of cry. And then in a sudden outburst Joseph reveals his true identity and asks if Israel, his father, is still alive. His brothers’ response? Stunned and terrified silence. This powerful, powerful man has just revealed that he is the younger brother that they sold into slavery twenty plus years ago.

Sensing their fear and shock, Joseph says to them, “Come closer to me”. Come and get more personal. Draw close and really see me. There needs to be no distance between us. Jesus said the same to Peter in last week’s reading from Matthew 14: “Come”. Step out of the boat and onto the raging sea. Walk across the water. Trust me. What went through Peter’s mind must have been what Reuben and Judah and… felt when Joseph asked them to walk across that beautiful floor. All their fear and worry dissipate as Joseph says, “Come”. It is an invitation to do the unlikely – to enter his presence, to be forgiven and reconciled, to have things put right again.

Many years later Jesus would offer the same invitation. In Matthew 11:28 he says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. Jesus invites us too – come into the presence, receive mercy and grace and forgiveness, find rest. Come, fellowship with the Lord.

Prayer: Gracious God, you continue to call, to invite me into your presence. Because you are holy and just and pure, you cleanse me, removing all that separates so that I can be with you. Thank you for your immense love and unending grace. Amen.


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Living Water

Reading: Jeremiah 2: 4-13

Where do you get your sense of worth?  Where is it from that you draw confidence, peace, and contentment?  Where do you turn in time of trial, stress, or temptation?  The answers to these questions will reveal much about your faith and your relationship with God.

Jeremiah is writing to a people who have turned away from God.  The people have strayed from God and have turned to worthless idols.  They have defiled the land with altars to foreign gods.  They have put their trust in “broken cisterns” – in their own power and might.  In this sense they have made themselves gods.

Like the people of Jeremiah’s day, we also turn to idols.  We look to our bank accounts and retirement investments for reassurance that all is well in life.  Instead of building altars to foreign gods, we park shiny new toys in our driveways and garages.  In these we see our own worth.  We see our name on the door of our office with its fancy title and think we are content.  But when a storm rolls in we turn to alcohol or drugs to dull the pain or to TV or the internet to numb the mind.  Too often God is a last resort, a desperate prayer when we have exhausted all other options.

Soon enough the shiny becomes dull, the title just isn’t what it once was, and the ways to cope don’t seem to be working anymore.  We feel lost and stuck at the same time.  All the while the Holy Spirit has been present, trying to turn us outward instead of inward, to look to the only way, truth, and life instead of everywhere else.  Even in our most self-centered moments, God does not give up, does not stop loving us, does not stop reaching out.  It is a live beyond our understanding.

At some point we all come to sense that our peace, contentment, and joy cannot come from the things of this world.  They are all temporary.  At some point we all get to this place.  It is a place of silence, of being alone.  It is a place where all else is stripped away.  It is where we meet God.  Maybe it is ‘again’ for some, maybe it is the first time for others.  It is here, in this place of solitude, that the living water seeps in through all the cracks in our brokenness.  It is here that we begin to find peace, contentment, and joy.  But our cracks remain.  We are imperfect creations.  We will lose our focus and fall back to the things of this world.  We will stray from God and our souls will become dry.  But our God is never done with us.  This living water is always seeking to seep back in, to fill us up.  Always.  It is a love beyond our understanding.

This day and every day, may we enter the silence, draw near to God, and confess our sins.  This day and every day, may we invite God in so that the living water will fill us up.


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The Journey

Our journey of faith draws us ever closer to God.  We are, however, not constantly growing each and every day.  Our growth is sometimes like that second cousin that you only see at the occassional reunion, wedding, or funeral.  You see him and marvel at how he has changed since you last saw him, but his growth has been gradual.

This journey of faith has its valleys and moutain tops as well as its wrong turns. There are moments when we connect powefully to God or the Holy Spirit and feel a growth spurt.  There are also times when we turn aside and stumble in our sin.  As we walk through the times of sin and repentance, looking back we can also see signs of overall growth.  Things we once did not see as sin are things we now wrestle with and our cycles of repeating the same sin has greater intervals in between.  We can see God and the Holy Spirit at work within us.

Our journey will also have seasons like the one described in Psalm 80.  We will have times when we cry out to God followed by what feels like silence.  We will have times when it feels like we are subsisting on the ‘bread of tears.’  In these times we long for His presence, for the touch or the whisper of the Holy Spirit.  The Good Shepherd is always near.  He never is far from His sheep.  So in these seasons we must continue to pray, to read His word, to seek His face.  In response to our faithfulness, suddenly He will be there.  It will seem like God never left.  All will be well.

Scripture reference: Psalm 80: 1-7


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Conflict

No one likes conflict.  Often we avoid it.  Maybe we go the other way or we accept another’s idea.  Maybe we simply choose to not be involved or we remain silent.  Yet God calls us to stand against injustice, oppression, and all things evil.  He calls us to always do what is right.  In making these choices we can find ourselves in conflict.

John the Baptist found great conflict at the end of his life.  He spoke out against Herod marrying his own brother’s wife.  This angered her greatly.  It led to John’s arrest and eventually to his beheading.  John’s integrity would not allow him to remain silent.  John’s cost was much higher than any cost I may have to pay for following Jesus, but at times there are still costs.

Living as a follower of Jesus will at times put me in a place where I have to choose between silence and integrity.  This can be a hard choice.  When I am led by the Holy Spirit to speak and I choose to remain silent, I am less than I could be.  I am less than I am called to be.  In silence I sacrifice part of myself and my faith to avoid conflict.

But when I allow the Spirit to lead and I speak out against injustice or oppression or anything wrong or evil, then I am showing God’s ways and bringing His name honor.  When I speak hard words of truth to a friend, I am leading them back to living God’s alternative way.  In turn, I trust they will do the same when I have gone astray or made a poor choice.  Conflict is never easy, But God is always present, there to strengthen, to encourage, to lead, to comfort, and to love.

Scripture reference: Mark 6: 14-29


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Self-Examination

The scriptures read, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven… a time to be silent…” ( Ecclesiastes 3: 1 and 7b). It is in the silence sometimes that we can best hear God.

It is very hard to hear His still, small voice over the ruckus of daily living.  Even when I am all alone in the quiet of the early morning hours and I sit down to pray, the mind races.  I cannot very easily force myself to be still for very long, to allow a space for God to speak.  It is never very long before a thought pops in.

We all desire a deep connection with God.  So, what is it that holds us back?  Part of it in me is the compulsion to do.  There is always the next task to accomplish.  This very thought betrays my lack of trust in God as provider.  Yet it goes deeper than that.

A part of me also fears what I might hear.  By providing enough time and space for God to speak might mean He actually does speak.  Because I really like to be in control of my life, I fear what He might say.  What God might speak into my life may force change, it may challenge me, it may push me into uncomfortable territory, it may cause me to really pour myself into His will.  This is also really a matter of trust.  I pray, Lord God, help me to trust.

When we are open and honest with it, there is much God will reveal.  May this season of Lent be a fruitful season of self-examination for your faith as well.

Scripture reference: Psalm 19: 1-6


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Allow His Voice

This morning I hear wave after wave of rain as it lands on the windows, buffeted by the wind.  In the quiet of the early morning, the rain is an audible presence.  A few days ago the sunrise broke over the horizon in a beautiful fashion.  The streaks of light and glow of the sun came forth in the stillness of the morning.  God and all of that creative ability shines forth in so many of the things in nature.  We can connect to God so easily in the beauty and stillness of creation.  To sit alone under a tree listening to the birds sing or to sit on a rock listening to the crash of the waves can renew and refresh our soul.  We can come into tune with God in these moments.

Sometimes though, we struggle with silence or the lack of noise.  We turn on the radio or TV or make small talk to fill the void of sound.  But if we always surround ourselves with noise, it is easy to miss God’s still, small voice.  In daily prayer time, allow God a moment or two.  Give Him a space to speak into your life.  In your time of reading and study, do the same.  God has so much to offer into the silence if we only slow down and seek out His voice.  Allow His voice to speak to you.  It may be to reveal something, to give you guidance, or simply to say, ‘I love you, my child.”

Scripture reference: Psalm 19: 1-6