pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Reaching Out

Reading: Psalm 91:14-16

Verse 14: “Because he [or she] loves me, I will rescue him [or her].”

Turning to the second half of this week’s Psalm 91 reading, we hear God’s words of love to us. Often it is hard to seek refuge. We are hard-wired to compete, to excell, to rise to the occasion. For some it is very hard to step outside the persona of self-made, rugged individual. Winners make it through; losers ask for help.

But sometimes the storm capsizes our boat and tosses us out into the raging sea. The choice becomes reach out or drown. At that place almost everyone stretches out a hand. There are many events or things that can bring us to this point – an incurable diagnosis, a tragic natural disaster, a senseless act of humanity, an addiction. All are things we’d avoid if we could. But at times we cannot avoid what has happened or is happening. We cannot control the situation, never mind the outcome. Those who refuse to stretch out a hand suffer a hard fate.

In verse 14 God says, “Because he [or she] loves me, I will rescue him [or her].” God is the one who takes the outstretched hand. God is the one who pulls us out of the raging waters. Rescue might not look like we think it should look. But God’s plan is always better. Now, God might use someone to extend that reach, to help one who is almost drowning, to begin the connection to God. This might be you. It might be me. Are we prepared to partner with God in someone’s time of need?

Prayer: Lord God, in the storms of life, you are steady and sure, loving and strong. When I get there, remind me to reach out quickly. When another needs a hand, guide me to reach out quickly too. Amen.


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Bridge the Gap

Reading: Psalm 91:1-6

Verse 2: “God is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

As we begin two days with Psalm 91, these words of trust and faith can elicit 2 (or more) responses. These responses might also be different in different places around the world. These responses will differ greatly depending on our relationship with God.

Today’s six verses speak of God’s love and care for us. In verse 2 the psalmist declares: “God is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” God is our fortress, our place of refuge and protection. We dwell in God’s presence and we find rest there. God will save us and be our shield. Our God will be with us in the fear, plagues, and pestilence. These are wonderful and awesome words of trust and faith in the Lord God. They are a confession of all that we need from God.

But to those living outside of a relationship with God, these words sound like weakness, like failure. Raised in our culture, some learned to stand tall, to fight hard. They have learned to not ask for help and to never show your emotions. “I’m fine” is the requisite response when the storms of life come. And they will come. They come to us all. And the bad storms break us all.

As ones who rejoice in confessing the words of Psalm 91, our question is this: How do we bridge the Gap when suffering or trial befalls one who doesn’t know God and thinks they don’t need God? We begin gently and lovingly, revealing the compassion and love that we find in Christ. We open our hearts and lives to be places of refuge and rest. We show a strength that is not our own but that we can share. We quietly trust in the Lord our God. Loving and caring for one without Christ begins by simply being like Christ. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when I cross paths with someone who is hurting behind the walls they’ve built, help me to speak and love into the cracks, pouring your love out into the lives of the lost, the broken, and the hurting. Guide me, use me. Amen.


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Steadfast and Eternal

Reading: Mark 5: 35-43

Verse 36: “Don’t be afraid; just believe”.

Photo credit: Aron Visuals

Today we again pick up the story of Jairus and his daughter. The woman with the 12-year condition has been healed. It is now almost time to continue on so that Jesus can attend to Jairus’ daughter. But just as Jesus finishes speaking to the woman, men from Jairus’ house arrive to tell him, “Your daughter is dead”. In immediate response, “ignoring what they said”, Jesus says to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe”. We hear of no response or reaction from Jairus. He, Jesus, and Peter, James, and John leave everyone else behind and proceed to the house. Was Jairus still hopeful? Did he still believe in Jesus’ power? Was he just numbly walking along?

Arriving at the house, the mourning is already well under way. Preparations for death had been made. Clearing the house, Jesus takes Jairus and his wife plus Peter, James, and John to the little girl’s room. Taking her hand, Jesus calls her back to life. Immediately the daughter stands up and begins to walk around. Like the woman, she is completely healed, fully restored. Whatever had been killing the girl is totally gone. Jairus’ plea for help and all of the prayers lifted for this girl and her family are answered. Resisting fear and holding onto belief brings life to his little daughter.

The woman is healed. The daughter brought back to life. Does faith always lead to a good outcome? Does resisting fear always hold off grief or the time of trial? No, not always. Life will still happen – illness persists, death is final. Yet God is both of these too – steadfast and eternal. Trusting in God and believing that he is always in control is our strength in the storm. God can do the impossible. May we walk in faith, ever standing upon our steadfast and eternal God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are ever with me in the highs and lows plus all the places in between. May I be as true to you, O Lord. Amen.


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Faith Over Fear

Reading: Mark 4: 35-41

Verse 40: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”?

Our passage today comes after many days of healing, teaching, and traveling. Jesus decides to cross the lake. In a boat with several others, they set out. Being tired, Jesus rests. It is natural for the fishermen among them to navigate the waters. A “furious squall” comes up and soon Jesus’ companions are fearing for their lives. They wake Jesus and say, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Their faith and trust is gone. Fear has set in. They question if Jesus even cares.

Back in my teaching days and even as a pastor, I would come home upset or bothered by something at work. At home, where I was comfortable, I would let out the emotion, usually not in a healthy or good way. The fear or anger or whatever other emotion I was struggling with would cloud my heart; it would affect how I treated my wife or kids. I would not take it to the Lord in prayer. I would not read my Bible for divine wisdom. I would unload on someone who had nothing to do with the situation.

The disciples turn to Jesus and say, don’t you care?! Turning to him and blaming him, they allow fear to speak. Jesus quickly addresses the source of their fear and then turns to the root of the problem, saying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”? I have been here. I’ve allowed fear and other negative emotions to seize the day, even though I knew Jesus was right there. I’ve let it build up until I’m at the point of crying out. When I could not go any longer and finally cried out to God, I too heard these questions. Later, after some time, like the disciples I too realized that I should have turned to my faith long before my fear won out. It is a moment of growth, a reminder to pray sooner, to delve into my Bible quicker, to lean into the one who is always present, right there in my little boat. May this be the choice made each time: faith over fear. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when fear or worry or stress or anger or… begin to arise in me, remind me of the depth of your love, of the wideness of your grace. Remind me that you are always right there – close as a whispered prayer, nearby in the words of life that I can read. Turn me ever to you. Amen.


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Power and Majesty

Reading: Psalm 29

Verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace”.

Photo credit: Lili Popper

Yesterday nature flexed her muscles a little bit. The rains fell and fell, the wind roared and roared. Our rain gauge shows 1.6″ this morning. At times I was mesmerized by the power of nature on display yesterday. Our Psalm today speaks of the power and majesty of the Lord. In verse three the psalmist writes, “The voice of the Lord is over the waters”. It was on full display yesterday.

As one reads all of Psalm 29 one is reminded over and over of the power and majesty of God’s “voice” in the natural world. The thunder and the lightning, the magnificent storms, the earthquakes – all physical reminders of God’s place “enthroned as king forever”. Psalms like this are good reminders of God’s place in our world and in our lives. It is too easy to get caught up in the rat race, getting busier and busier. David’s words in our Psalm today call us to slow down, to marvel at God’s power and majesty. It is also very easy at times to get lost in our own little world. We too easily get obsessed with some small thing, some unimportant event that has become a mountain. The Psalm again reminds us of God’s power and majesty, reminding us that the one who is so much greater than anything life can bring also loves us. Verse eleven speaks of this: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace”. Strength and peace – wonderful gifts of the Lord of power and majesty. May these fill your life today!

Prayer: Lord God, you are in the mighty wind and in the abundant rains. Your might and power are evident, fully on display in the created world. Yet you also bring me strength in my weakness, peace in my storms. You are an awesome God. Amen.


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Covenant God

Reading: Genesis 9: 8-17

Verse 9: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”.

Photo credit: Iker Urteaga

Noah is the central character in our passage but he is far from alone. Noah and family have been on the ark with every other living animal, bird, reptile, insect… for almost a whole year. Imagine being confined to a fairly small space for that long! In reality, though, the current pandemic has felt like that for many. For Noah and crew, the waters finally receed and God calls them out of the ark with the imperative to “be fruitful and increase in number”. The earth must be populated again. New life must return. As they exit the ark, God says, “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”. Never again will the whole earth be destroyed by water. A rainbow will remind God and humanity of the covenant.

If the pandemic has not felt like being locked in an ark for you, we all have had other trials and experiences where we wondered if we’d make it through, where we questioned if we’d survive the storm, where we’ve longed to finally catch our breath… As I’m sure Noah and family did from time to time, we have asked why God would allow this terrible thing to happen. This is a questioning born from grief or pain. After these emotions have passed we realize again that death and disease and illness and natural disasters are all part of life. None of these things are God punishing us or the world. At times maybe you, like me, briefly wondered this about COVID. It can sometimes feel that way. At the time of this writing, 2.43 million have died worldwide, with almost half a million of those deaths in the US. This disease has reminded us that we are powerless in many ways and that we can’t totally control everything. In the midst of the loss and grief we have also been reminded again and again of the hope, joy, strength, peace, assurance… that we find in our faith and in our covenant God.

Just as it did for Noah and family, the world as we once knew it has changed forever. We are in a place we never imagined we’d be. Just as the people of Noah’s day said ‘the rain will stop soon’, so too do we think this cannot last forever. We approach a year living in a pandemic. All of us have lost someone or have been impacted by this powerful disease. Yet Noah’s truths remain for us: God is more powerful than any earthly thing and that God is our covenant God. We too need to remember that God is more powerful than anything, even death. God promises to be our God in this life and in the life to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are all-powerful and everlasting. You are in total control and you are limitless. Yet you know my name and even the limited number of hairs on my head. You love me. You call me child. Thank you for wanting to be in a personal relationship with even me. Amen.


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Ascribe Glory and Strength to the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 29: 1-4

Verse 2: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name”.

David begins our Psalm for today ascribing glory and strength to the Lord. To ascribe means to give credit to or to attribute to. In verse two, then, David is asking us to attribute to the Lord the “glory due his name”. Connecting into the Genesis passage from yesterday, thinking of the creation story, it is easy to attribute glory and strength to the Lord. God spoke and created the world and all that is in it. Each day ends with the pronouncement that it is “good”. As David calls us to “worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness” it is easy to do so with the creation story fresh in our minds.

In the Psalm David hears the voice of God in the thunder that is over the waters. During a good thunderstorm one can certainly hear and feel the power in the thunder claps. It is a good physical representation of the power of God. In the remainder of the Psalm, which we will turn to tomorrow, the voice of God breaks cedars and shakes the desert, again revealing the awesome power found in the voice of God. In verse four David writes, “The voice of the Lord is powerful… is majestic”. Yes it is! All praise and glory and honor are yours, O Lord!

Volume does not always equal strength. Thinking of the power found in the voice of the Lord, my mind is drawn to a passage found in Luke 8. A fierce storm arises and the disciples fear drowning. They awaken Jesus and with a few words he brings total calm to the lake. In 1 Kings 18 the power of God is shown as Elijah calls upon God to turn the people’s hearts back to God. In response to his quietly spoken prayer in verse 37, the fire of God falls from heaven, consuming both the sacrifice and the altar. Having spoken, the people do turn back to God.

Yes, the voice of the Lord is powerful and majestic. It speaks out in many ways – in the thunder and the fire, in the softly spoken words, and, even now in the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. As you ponder today how you hear the voice of God, may you join David, ascribing glory and strength to the Lord.

Prayer: Dear Lord, I have felt your power in the spoken word, in the written word, and in the sung word. I have felt your strength in times of testimony and witness and in the softly spoken words beside the deathbed and at the grave. Your Spirit’s voice has brought me calm in the storm and peace in the chaos. Thank you for your words spoken to me, always in love. Amen.


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Pressing On

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

In today’s passage Jesus is preparing his disciples for a radical change – his death, followed by him being “raised to life”. The time the twelve have spent with Jesus must have been the best time of their lives. They have witnessed all kinds of miracles and have been a part of a few. They have been side by side with love lived out to the full. They have been blessed with the wisdom of God. If I could just have dinner with anyone in the world, far and away my choice would be Jesus.

The news Jesus delivers is hard to fathom. How could this even happen to the Messiah? How could that be the end of the story? There had to have been a personal side to the emotions the twelve felt too. Peter says, “Never, Lord”! This is the same Peter who was proclaimed the “rock” upon which Jesus would “build my church”. Following these new words from Peter, Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan”. Imagine how that must have stung Peter. The Lord has a way of keeping us humble. Peter is not thinking of the “things of God” – of the plan laid out for Jesus and for humankind. He is not thinking of the Messiah of love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Peter is thinking of what Peter wants – to just continue as it has been. We never want to lose someone or something we love.

Jesus then turns to all of the disciples and says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. For Peter and probably for all of the disciples, the initial denial will be the desire for Jesus to stay with them. The death and resurrection are critical pieces of the plan. They will also be asked to deny self in many more ways as they follow the risen Lord. They will each take up the cross and sacrifice many things along the journey. Such is the cost of discipleship. It is a sobering thought.

Like the twelve, we prefer life to be good, to move along smoothly. It is well with our souls when we are surrounded by those we love, enjoying life, feeling closely connected to the Lord. But the storms of life come, we are drawn to crossroads, we too face death and loss. And at times we too must take up our faith, stand with or for Jesus, and count the cost. This is how we carry our cross. With God, it is always one we can bear, always a path we can tread. It is so because we do not walk alone. As we long for our reward, may we each press on toward the goal of heaven, trusting in God each step of the way.

Prayer: Redeeming and saving God, strengthen me for the journey ahead. Grant me the power to walk the path you place before me. Fill me with your love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Each day may I offer all that I am in service to you, my Lord and King. Amen.


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With Us

Reading: Matthew 14: 28-33

Verse 31: “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him”.

The disciples have just been a part of feeding 5,000+ with two fish and five loaves. As they headed out in the boat, life probably couldn’t get any better. Then a storm arises. That is usually how they come – out of nowhere. Life is moving along really well and then we hear the word “cancer” or the words “your position has been eliminated” or some other difficult news. All of a sudden we feel as if we are right there in that boat with the disciples. Fear, doubt, worry all rise up.

The disciples are in a storm. They are in need of Jesus’ presence and strength. He comes to them. Despite the words of encouragement from the teacher, Peter still doubts. He does not trust that Jesus is there in the storm. Peter demands proof. He demands a miracle. In our times of most desperate prayer we too can go here. We have all prayed the “God if you’re real…” prayers, demanding that the cancer go away or that God will ‘fix’ whatever else has fallen apart. These prayers belie our lack of faith just as Peter sinking revealed his failure of faith.

Jesus is there for Peter. When Peter sinks we read, “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him”. Right away. No delay. When our faith is teetering and we’re about to sink, Jesus does the same for us. He reaches out, he is fully present, he extends compassion and understanding. Jesus is there with us. Even if the cancer ‘wins’ or if the difficulty does not end as we had hoped, Jesus remains there with us, giving support and encouragement, peace and strength. Our faith cannot prevent some storms from running their course. But our faith promises a companion in the boat. Jesus promises to be with us. His grace is sufficient in all things. May we trust in Jesus.

Prayer: Loving Lord, your promise to be with us never fails. At times we fail to keep the faith, to really trust in you. When the storm causes me to begin to falter, whisper your love into my ear. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Take Courage!

Reading: Matthew 14: 22-27

Verse 22: “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead of him”.

Jesus’ actions in today’s passage have an immediate teaching moment for the disciples as well as application for all who follow as disciples. Jesus sends the disciples on ahead of him so that he can pray in solitude. They head out into the waters and a storm arises. As the night progresses, the disciples are increasingly battered and afraid. Into their fear and tiredness, Jesus walks across the water. He comes through the storm to be with them, to calm their fears, to reassure them. As he nears, Jesus echoes the words that God spoke to Moses during a storm in his leadership, saying, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”. The winds and waves calm as Jesus enters the boat, validating who he is: the Son of God.

In the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first disciples and the early church would read this passage and see themselves as the ones in the boat. Jesus commissioned all disciples to go into the world to share the good news. For the early church the storm was the Jews and Romans. Today, for us, it is secular culture that defines the post-Christian world that we live in. For the early followers, the harassment and ridicule were the early wind and waves. As the storm increased they endured persecution and prison and even death. It felt like a storm raging against their boat. The same God who came to Moses, the same Jesus who came to the disciples in the storm – the same Holy Spirit continued to be with the early disciples and continues to come to you and me when the storms of life rise up.

Jesus continues to call us out into the world. In response, as followers we seek to live out the gospel, to share our faith when opportunities arise, and to be examples of the humble servant whenever we can. At times we too will find ourselves in the storm, battered and afraid. But we will not be left alone. Jesus continues to come to us, to walk right through the storms, to bring us peace and strength and assurance. Through the whisper of the Holy Spirit, Jesus repeats over and over, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”. May we ever remember, Jesus is with us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, your abiding presence is always with me. Ever guide me, ever walk with me. Help me to remember, especially in the storms, that I am never really alone. No matter how bad the storm, Jesus is by my side. Help me to cling to his power and strength. Amen.