pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God’s Peace

Reading: John 20:19-23

Verse 23: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Jesus comes to the disciples to break through the fear that has paralyzed them. A very traumatic event – Jesus’ death by crucifixion – has shattered their hopes and dreams for the future. Their leader, their Lord and Savior, is gone. The climate of hatred and violence has claimed Jesus and they wonder if they’re next. Considering the animosity between Jesus and the religious leaders, these are legitimate fears.

We too can be driven to fear, to doubt, to worry. We can withdraw just as the disciples did. When unwanted change or unexpected loss comes into our lives or immediate world, withdrawal can be a natural response. The instinct to protect our own can rise up. We can worry about us or one we love being next. We too are in need of someone to reassure us and to enable us to get back to life.

Jesus comes and stands among the disciples. He shows who he is. Then he says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Jesus is alive! Hope is restored! From this place of new faith the disciples are sent back out into the world. Empowered by the Holy Spirit they will continue the work of sharing God’s love with the world. Filled with the living presence of Jesus Christ, the disciples will head out to change the world.

When we are hurting or suffering, when we feel alone or are fearful, Jesus will be there for us. The Spirit will wrap love around us, bringing healing and comfort, strength and trust. We too will be empowered to once again share God’s love with a world in need. God’s peace is ever with us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are ever faithful and true. Your love never fails. No matter what comes my way, you are my rock and my redeemer, my strength and my shield. All praise be to you! Amen.


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Evidence

Reading: Psalm 27:7-14

Verse 13: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”

As we turn to the second half of our Psalm we hear David looking to God, longing for God, seeking God’s presence and protection. David wants to learn from God and to seek God’s face. There is an active part to David’s faith. He doesn’t expect God to just show up when needed. David has built a relationship with God. This gives him the confidence to state: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”

David has had his share of difficulties. Like ours, some have been self-inflicted and some have been a part of living in a fallen and broken world. In either case, we can sometimes forget that we are not alone. Times of struggle and hardship tend to turn us inward, seeking to protect ourselves, to limit any more exposure to pain, to avoid those who mean well. This can also be how we treat God. It takes trust to turn to God and to others, to open ourselves up to sources of strength, compassion, encouragement, and support.

In those moments when we’re tempted to withdraw, to isolate, may we remember to take the long view. God is faithful – that will be evident if we look back at other times in the valley. God loves us. That will be evident as we recall times when we sought God and God drew near to us. God has good for us. Looking back at hard times or at the lows in our life, we can see how God worked some good out of our darkest days. Doing these things we too will see the goodness of the Lord, made evident in and through our relationship with God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your unfailing love and presence in my life. Even when I create distance, when I turn away, you are always right there, as close as my next prayer. Thank you for your faithfulness, O God. Amen.


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The Worldly Lens

Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-6

Verse 5: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength.”

Our Old Testament passage for this week comes in the middle of a section titled “Days of Disaster.” Our passage for today and tomorrow deals with the impact of our choices and decisions. As people living in a broken and hurting world, we can struggle to discern and consequently follow the voices and ways of God. The voices of the world and the pain and suffering that we all face make our decisions and choices less easy – at least in ways that are pleasing to God. In reality, it is easier to go along with the culture and with the norms of the world and people around us.

In the first two verses of this week’s passage God addresses our situation when we choose the easier path. When we choose to “trust in man” and when we decide to “depend on flesh” we are cursed. Ultimately we are cursed because this is not the path that leads to eternity in heaven. This choice also affects our earthly life and this is what God addresses in these two verses. When we focus on man-made success we limit our vision. A selfish focus leads to tunnel vision. Focusing on things like wealth and power and prestige, God says we “will not see prosperity when it comes.” For those chasing the things of this world, the next success is just one rung on the ladder. Looking already to the next rung, the prosperity or blessing is missed. The tunnel of “me” is narrow. This is why there is often no contentment or joy when living only for self and for success according to the world’s definition. This is why God describes this life as dwelling in the “parched places of the desert.” Chasing the things and ways of the world does not fill us with true life. It leaves us dry and always wanting.

Instead of seeing life through this worldly lens, may we choose to see with eyes of faith. Doing so we will find joy and contentment, peace and true strength. May we turn our eyes to the ways of God day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, turn me from these selfish ways. Attract me instead to walking in your ways, considering others more than self. Guide me to walk in your light and love, seeing as you see. Amen.


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Remember, Live Out

Reading: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Verse 10: “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing.'”

As we turn to Nehemiah this week we step into the time period where the return from exile has begun. A small group returned and rebuilt the altar and temple. Ezra the priest came next, giving spiritual direction and some encouragement to those who were rebuilding. Nehemiah was then sent by King Artaxerxes to empower and spur on the rebuilding of the walls and gates. Despite opposition from those who had moved into the area during the exile, the walls were rebuilt, bringing security and a sense of peace to the Israelites. In today’s passage the people can now turn their attention to rebuilding their spiritual foundations.

Ezra reads from and explains the Law to the people. The people listened attentively and responded with “Amen”! The word of God was calling the people back into a faithful walk with God. The people wept and mourned. They cried tears of joy and tears of sadness – tears of joy for the hope and love that God was offering, tears of sadness for their time in exile. Joy for what could and should be for God’s people; sadness for what was instead. These themes were often a focus of one of our nation’s recent prophets – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today we recognize and celebrate the life of a great man of God. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of justice and equality, of the hope and joy of truly living into God’s vision for the kingdom here on earth. With this vision in mind, Dr. King worked to end injustice and discrimination, poverty and oppression. These are characteristics of all great men of faith. In our passage today, Nehemiah demonstrates these characteristics. In verse 10 we read, “send some to those who have nothing.” Care for the poor and needy. This was not just a one-time concern because of a verse that Ezra has read that day. Earlier, in chapter 5, Nehemiah puts an end to the wealthy and powerful taking advantage of the poor and needy. It was and is against God’s Law to treat others unjustly. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., and another prophet that we know well, Nehemiah stood for those without voice or power. These men understood God’s vision for all of humanity. They understood that faith,justice, love, equality, hope, and kindness must be the foundations for not only our faith but also for the kingdom of God here on earth. These remain the foundations yet today.

Nehemiah recognized his responsibility to lead with those without in mind. Jesus came and upheld the cause of the downtrodden, the outcast, the marginalized. Today we celebrate a modern prophet who led as these and many others have led, with the love of God as his power and with “the joy of the Lord” as his strength. May we too ever remember and live out our call to solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable, with the outcast and the marginalized.

Prayer: Lord, I am thankful for the reminder today of what your kingdom on earth should look like. Nudge me, prod me, poke me… remind me over and over to act and speak on behalf of those held down, pushed aside, made to feel less than. In and with your love and strength, empower me to be a kingdom builder. Amen.


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Constant and Eternal

Reading: Psalm 29

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

The Psalm begins with the giving of praise to the Lord for his glory and strength and for the splendor of his holiness. These are some of the attributes of the Lord revealed in and through God’s divine nature. Continuing into the middle section of our Psalm, verses 3-9, David recognizes the ways that God’s power and majesty can be revealed in the created world.

David uses “voice” as the presence of God in the created world. One can “hear” God in the thunder; one can “see” God in the lightning. One can “feel” God in the wind and in the earthquakes. One can “see” God in the aftermath of a storm that twists trees and leaves forests bare. Extending this concept, one can know God’s presence in a sunrise or sunset, in the beauty of a spider’s web, in the sounds of a rippling brook. In these relatively still or quiet ways we can also experience the Lord’s power, glory, and strength.

The Psalm closes by acknowledging God’s constant and eternal presence “enthroned forever.” David then praises God, saying, “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Strength and blessing and peace come from being in God’s presence – whether through knowing God in the created world, through worship in the sanctuary, or through quiet time with God in the early hours of the day. God is all around us, eager to be with us. Thanks be to God for this constant and eternal presence.

Prayer: Lord God, from the moment we awake to the moment our next day begins, you are with us. You’re there all the time, if we but look for you, if we but seek you. Turn me often into your presence. Amen.


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Always

Reading: Philippians 4:4

Verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

What was the hardest thing you went through in the last few weeks? What was your greatest struggle or challenge to your faith during this time? When have you felt the temptation of sin – anger, gossip, jealousy, pride, judging… – recently? How have others wronged or otherwise hurt you during the past few weeks?

Were you able to do as Paul says today? In those times of hardship or trial or suffering were you able to “rejoice in the Lord always?” This is our encouragement today. And “always” Paul says! So, how does one rejoice in the midst of such difficult situations or circumstances? It begins with another “always”: the Lord is always with us. The Lord’s presence never leaves us. In moments of anger or frustration, Christ is there to bring us peace. In moments of temptation, Christ is there to bring us strength. In moments of despair, Christ is there to give us hope. In moments of sadness, Christ is there to comfort us. In all things, Christ is always there with us. Whether by prayer, by turning to the scriptures, or by fellowship with other believers, we can be reminded of how to find all we need in Jesus Christ.

This is reason to rejoice. But there is another reason: it is part of our witness to our faith. When we walk through the trials… in faith, others notice. The world, for example, reacts to anger with anger. When we choose to react to anger with empathy or kindness or by seeking understanding, we provide an alternative way to be in the world. The joy, hope, peace, strength, comfort, grace, assurance… that we live with in the difficult and hard times reveals our faith in the one who is always with us. This day may all see Christ within us.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. Your presence always walks with me. In those times when others notice your peace, hope… make me ready to share my faith. 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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Always There

Reading: John 6:35

Verse 35: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry… will never be thirsty”.

Food gives us energy. It sustains us. Food brings us enjoyment and pleasure. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life”. Speaking of the spiritual, Jesus is our sustenance and our energy, our joy and our contentment. But unlike physical food, which is depleted, Jesus says, “He who comes to me will never go hungry… will never be thirsty”. If we place our faith in Jesus Christ he will always sustain us, will always be present with us.

In the trials and the challenges, when we hunger for Jesus, he will always be there. Jesus will be there to encourage us in that difficult talk, to guide us when we’re not sure of the way, to strengthen us for the necessary but hard tasks. In the valleys and sufferings, when we thirst for Jesus, he will always be there. When the news of illness or loss comes, Jesus will be our peace and comfort. When the unwanted change forces us somewhere we do not want to be, Jesus will walk with us. When we are placed in a situation or with a person that tests our limits, Jesus will be our grace and love.

When we come to Jesus, when our faith leans into him, Jesus will always be there. We will never hunger or thirst. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, your presence always sustains me. Your love always guides and leads me. Your grace and mercy always restore and redeem me. You never leave or forsake me. Thank you for your contact presence. Amen.


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In His Presence

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 32: “It is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven”.

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

There is a personal, individual component to our passage. As we turn a second day to John 6, let us hear Jesus speaking to us, offering you and me the gift of life. Emphasizing his connection to God, Jesus says, “It is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven”. It is God who sent the Son to save the world. It is God who sent Jesus to save you and me.

In the time and place of Jesus, bread was an essential staple. This important part of their diet sustained them. In the same way Jesus “gives life” to all who believe in him. The life Jesus Christ offers is filled with hope and peace, love and forgiveness, mercy and grace, power and strength, comfort and joy. He sustains us on our journey of faith.

Today in many houses of worship people will drink the cup and eat the bread. We will literally celebrate that Jesus is the “bread of life”. We will rejoice that Christ hears our confession, accepts our repentance, and washes away our sin. Through communion we are redeemed and restored, made new again. Holy and perfect in his sight at least for the moment, we do not hunger and thirst for the things of this world. Holy and perfect we rest in his divine presence, assured of his love. May we rest in Christ’s presence today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for walking with us on this journey of faith. Thank you for sustaining us through all that life throws our way. Help me to rest in you. Amen.


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When I Am Weak

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 12: 2-10

Verse 9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As our passage today begins, Paul speaks of himself in the third person. He tells of a “man” who has a grand vision of heaven. There he witnessed “inexpressible things”. Paul could choose to tell all about this vision but he refrains. He does not want others to “think more of me” than they should. Paul’s language here reminds me of those ‘just asking for a friend’ questions we give or receive once in a while.

In our time many are drawn to leaders with awesome resumes, excellent credentials, and/or with amazing charisma and leadership skills. It was not any different in Paul’s day. There is never a shortage of people that want to lead or that think they are just the best leader ever. Both are in great supply. Paul could have boasted of his encounter with the risen Lord or of his vision of heaven. Instead he admits his weakness and his brokenness. He chooses the path of humility. Paul shares that he has a “thorn” in his flesh. It torments him and he has begged God to take it away. God will not. The Lord instead tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. The Lord allows the thorn to stay to remind Paul again and again that he’s not perfect, that he’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread. Paul can think back to his Pharisee days and say, ‘I once knew a guy like that…’

Paul was found by Christ and has matured in his faith. He now knows that when he is weak, Christ is strong. When insult or persecution or hardship comes, Paul now relies even more on Jesus Christ. It is then that Paul finds strength. It is then that we are strong too – when we rely on and trust in Christ. In humble faith may we ever turn to the only one who can save: Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, in Paul I see Jesus’ humble servant’s attitude. When I look within, may my life and leadership reflect this same grace and humility. Remind me of my flaws and weaknesses when I think too much of self. Thank you God. Amen.