pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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 and Loving

Reading: 1st Samuel 2: 1-10

Verse 2: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no rock like our God.”

Today’s passage contains Hannah’s spirit-filled prayer. She is celebrating the God who heard her prayer for a child after all of these years. In the opening verse we read, “my heart rejoices” as Hannah praises God for lifting her strength up high. Hannah delights in God’s deliverance. Her suffering, the taunting, the feelings of being less than – they all have been wiped away with the birth of Samuel.

In our lives, when God answers a big prayer of ours, do we rejoice and praise God as Hannah did? When we have entered into a time of prolonged prayer, when we have persevered as Hannah did, and then when God answers – how great is our praise and thanksgiving? At these junctures in our walk of faith we should raise the roof of heaven with our praise of the God who listens.

In verse two Hannah prays, “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no rock like our God.” She recognizes that God alone is God. When we are in an extended time of suffering or trial it can be hard to hold fast to God’s presence. In seasons of hardship we can feel alone. Even though Hannah has just given her one and only child – just weaned – to serve in the temple under Eli, she is full of joy. Samuel will always be her firstborn. Hannah recognizes that she must be faithful to the promise she made to a faithful God.

In verse ten Hannah prays, “It is not by strength that one prevails.” She could not will herself to have a child. She could not control the behaviors of Peninnah or the looks and gossip as others judged her barrenness. Hannah knew God as faithful and loving. May it be so for you and for me as we live out our faith today!

Prayer: Lord God, hold onto me. Let me feel your presence and your strength in the trials and sufferings. Keep my eye on you. Amen.


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Perseverance in Prayer

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.”

Today we begin the story of Samuel. The story, of course, begins with his mother Hannah. As the story begins we learn that Hannah cannot have any children because “the Lord had closed her womb.” Children were a sign of God’s blessing. The other wife, Peninnah, had many sons and daughters. Because of Hannah’s barrenness, the husband Elkanah would give her a double portion. This attempt to show her love did nothing to alleviate Hannah’s grief and suffering. It did intensify the rivalry between Hannah and Peninnah. In verses six and seven we read that Peninnah provoked and irritated Hannah year after year.

Have you ever prayed for something year after year after year? Have you ever endured long suffering? If so, you understand Hannah’s hardship. Year after year she prayed. Year after year. At times she must have wondered if God was listening. At times she must have wondered why her suffering and barrenness must go on and on. We’ve all prayed and prayed for relief, for healing, for a change… and have had these questions, these doubts.

One year Elkanah and the family travel to Shiloh to worship at the temple. Alone in her thoughts we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” Hannah prays from deep within her heart, from deep within her place of pain. The priest Eli questions her sobriety. Explaining that she was praying “out of my great grief and anguish”, Eli offers her a blessing from the Lord.

Hannah does indeed find favor with God as she becomes pregnant and has a son. Hannah’s steadfast faith and perseverance in prayer bears fruit. The thing she most desired was given as a blessing from God. May we, like Hannah, persevere in our prayers, trusting in the God who hears us and who loves us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in the waiting, keep me focused on you. As time lengthens out remind me to trust into your plans. I know your timing is not always my timing. Guide me to walk faithfully day by day, knowing you are good. 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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Can you…?

Reading: Mark 10: 35-40

Verse 35: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

After clearly hearing what lies ahead for Jesus in verses 33 and 34 – condemned, mocked, spit upon, flogged, killed – James and John come to Jesus with a request. They preface it with “do for us whatever we ask.” It seems like they have something really important on their minds. Turns out to be so – they want the seats of glory in heaven. Did they miss the part about being condemned…?

Instead of getting angry or frustrated, Jesus is patient. Explaining the cost of discipleship another way he asks if they can “drink the cup” or be “baptized” as he will be. They say “we can” even though they have no idea what they will face. James and John will drink the cup of suffering and rejection and mocking. They will be baptized by the fires of persecution. Jesus assures them that they will indeed be able to pay the high price of discipleship. But, alas, he cannot grant their request – God already has those seats filled.

Those of us who have been part of a faith community for very long understand the cost of discipleship. We’ve given or heard lots of sermons about loving others more than self, about taking up our cross, about dying to self, about being generous and serving others. We’ve been through enough Easters to be aware of the high price Jesus paid to break the chains of sin and death. We feel perfectly comfortable, as James and John did, to ask Jesus about or for anything – from small requests to really big prayers. But are we willing to drink the cup and to be baptized as Jesus and the early disciples and apostles were? I fully realize that it is not in the slightest way a ‘quid pro quo’ situation, but there is clearly a cost to discipleship as Jesus clearly lays out in today’s passage and in many others.

Maybe your first thought, like mine when I read James’ and John’s question, was something like: How could you ask that?! If so, may we spend a little more time with Jesus’ question: Can you…?

Prayer: Lord God, it’s easy to walk a surface level faith. It’s easy to show up on a Sunday and maybe to a small group once a week or so. It’s another thing to be willing to suffer and to endure persecution, to pay a price for my faith. Lord, move me closer to this sacrificial and fully committed faith. Amen.


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Abundant Rains

Reading: Joel 2: 21-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.”

Photo credit: Crystal Huff

The prophet Joel is like many other Old Testament prophets. Sent by God to call the people back into right relationship with God, he came with a message of repentance. The locusts that have ravaged Israel are the result of sinful idol worship. Joel calls the people to “put on sackcloth” and to “declare a holy fast.” He implores the people to “rend your hearts” – to tear them away from idols and to turn once again to God. As the book works towards today’s reading, Joel speaks of God driving the enemy away.

In our text for today Joel reminds the people that “the Lord has done great things.” Yes, God is faithful. As a sign Joel points to the signs of God’s returning favor: greening pastures and trees and vines beginning to bear fruit. God is still there. Yes, the nation’s sins have brought hardship and suffering. But God is still there. Even when all seems lost, even when it feels like things couldn’t get any worse – look, God is still here. It is that kind word spoken in our time of need. It is that quiet presence that reminds us that we are not alone. Even in the trial and suffering, there are signs of God’s presence.

As we have walked through the valleys we have felt like God was not there. We may have even felt that the consequences were the result of our sinful actions. At times we’ve all said or done things that have brought just suffering upon ourselves. In these moments or seasons it is important to remember God’s promises. God is still our God. God is still in control. If we also rend our hearts towards God as we repent of our evil ways, then God will green up the pastures and send abundant healing rains. God is faithful. Our response to God’s faithfulness will be to praise Gods name. And “then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your faithfulness extends to all generations. Your love and mercy never ends. When I falter and stumble, when I sin, gently call me back again. May your abundant mercies wash away my sin, restoring me back into your presence. Amen.


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Leaning into God

Reading: Job 23: 1-9 and 16-17

Verse 7: “There an upright man could present his case before God.”

Photo credit: Jeremy Thomas

At the end of the week we return to Job. He has experienced great loss and hardship. His friends have accused him of sinning and have condemned him for not repenting. They have told him that he deserves the punishment that has come. While his friends and the world around him see Job’s situation one way, Job sees it differently. Job knows that he is innocent, that he has not sinned or done anything wrong, that he does not deserve what has befallen him. But this is his reality. It does not make sense in his mind. Why would God curse an innocent man and his family? Job knows that all would be made right if he could have an audience with God. In verse seven he says, “There an upright man could present his case before God.” Job may not understand why all this has happened to him and he may be puzzled by God’s felt absence, but his heart still believes that God is in control and that his Redeemer will redeem him.

In the depth of the valley, when we are in the throws of despair, it can be hard to hold onto God and onto our faith. As the time drags on and we’ve searched for God as Job did – in the north and south, to the east and west – we too can feel the darkness closing in around us. We know that God is always there. Our long walk of faith has proven God’s presence. In verse twelve Job says, “I have not departed from the commands of God’s lips; I have treasured the words of God’s mouth more than my daily bread.” More than anything, Job is reminding himself of his faith and of his long walk with God. Job is making the choice to remember who and what God is even though it doesn’t feel like it in the present moment. Shortly God will come around. God will speak. God always does. May we ever lean into this reality, especially when we find ourselves in the places of trial and suffering. May it be so.

Prayer: God, you are always watching, always seeing. At times we feel all alone. Even then, though, you are there. Help us to trust when we can’t see and to lean in anyway when we can’t feel your presence. Remind us that even then we are in the palm of your hand. Keep us strong in our faith. 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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Not Ashamed

Reading: Hebrews 2: 5-12

Verse 10: “It was fitting that God… should make the author of our salvation perfect through suffering.”

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

In today’s section of Hebrews we are reminded of the supremacy of Jesus. Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor” as God “put everything under his feet”. All in this world is within Jesus’ reach. All in this world is within his control. All in this world is invited into his love. Many choose to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, becoming a follower, a disciple. But some do not choose Jesus. This is why we read “yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” in verse eight. Faith in Jesus Christ is a personal choice.

During his time on earth Jesus was subject to God. It too was a choice that he made. Jesus could have taken power for himself. He could have accepted Satan’s offer to rule all the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus could have kept all of his friends safe and protected. But he went with Mary and Martha outside of Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus was well acquainted with the sufferings and trials of this life. He felt pain and grief, loneliness and rejection. In verse ten we read, “It was fitting that God… should make the author of our salvation perfect through suffering.” To be our Savior, Jesus needed to know our suffering. To give us victory over sin and death, Jesus had to give his perfect life. Willingly doing so he provided the way for the sinful and imperfect to be made perfect and holy. In many churches and places of worship we will remember and celebrate this gift in the sacrament of communion.

Knowing the trials and sufferings of this life, Jesus knows our struggles, our challenges, our temptations. He understands us and how hard this world can be. Because he can relate to this, Jesus is “not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.” Jesus welcomes and invites all into the family of God. This day may our grateful response be to help others hear the invitation.

Prayer: Lord God, you love even me. You love us all. In love you gave your Son for me, for us. Guide me to give back to you in humble service this day and every day. 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.