pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Cry Out, Trust, Act

Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4

Verse 3: “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?”

Photo credit: Mukund Nair

We begin the week with the prophet Habakkuk. He wrote in about 600 BC, in the years just after the Babylonians destroyed Israel and took many away into exile. The leaders of Israel had wandered from God, taking the people with them. Living in sin and ignoring God’s laws had a devastating impact. It led to a time of great suffering – both for those led away and for the remnant left behind. Most of the people were adrift and disconnected from God. It is into this situation that Habakkuk asks God, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” How long God must I ask for help turning these lost souls back to you? This is a great question we too ask when we look at our world today.

In verse 3 the prophet laments, asking, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” This is an extension of the ‘how long?’ question. Habakkuk asks God how long must they suffer. How long must we pay the price for our sin? These are questions that reveal deep faith in God. They are in the situation they are in because God is just. The prophet questions and cries out as a witness to his faith. Habakkuk seeks God because he believes that only God can move the people from faithless to faithful. The prophet knows that God alone has the power to save them.

As we look at our world today we can identify areas of injustice and of suffering. We too can cry out to God, asking ‘how long?’ As we cry out to God, may we, like Habakkuk, do so trusting that God is mighty and powerful and just. In faith may we trust in God’s good purposes. And, like the prophet, may we too come to see that God has a role for us to play in bringing healing and wholeness to the pain and brokenness of our world.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to see the places in need of your love and healing. Fill my heart with compassion and empathy. And then move me to action, to a part to play in helping others to experience your power to save and to restore and to redeem. Amen.


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Pour It Out

Reading: Lamentations 1:1-6

Verse 5: “The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.”

To lament is to express our grief, our sorrow, our sadness. It is an outpouring of emotions. As I read these opening six verses again today, I wonder how long it took the writer to put these words to paper. When I’ve experienced something horrible, something terrible, it has taken some time to express what I’m feeling. In Lamentations it is clear that some time has passed. The city is deserted, things lie in ruins.

Hardship and suffering sometimes come upon us simply because it is part of life. We are not to “blame,” so to speak. But sometimes we had a hand in what happened, if not directly at least indirectly. In these cases, I think our lament is even deeper. This is the case with today’s writing. The author writes these words in verse 5: “The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.” There is a distance here – “her many sins.” The writer does not say “our sins.” Yet the author was there during the sinning. Inaction can also implicate us in the hardship and suffering. Whatever the writer’s connection, there is clearly deep and profound emotions triggered by the recent events in Israel and Judah.

When you have found yourself filled with troubling and difficult emotions, how do you express them? Do you journal? Do you write poetry? Do you paint or use some other artistic means to release these feelings of grief, sorrow, and sadness? Do you find a trusted friend or two to talk with, allowing this space to be your safe outlet? And over and in and through it all, do you pour it out to God in prayer? We must begin with God and then allow ourselves to feel and express our lament. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the safe spaces that you have been and that you have provided in my times and seasons of lament. I trust in you and will return as needed. Lord, draw others into your great heart of compassion. Ease any reservations or hesitations or doubts. Help each of us to feel at home with you. Amen.


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Never Alone

Reading: Romans 8:3-5

Verse 5: “Hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”

The second part of our Romans passage for this week calls us to not only rejoice in the hope of glory that we have in Christ, but also to “rejoice in our sufferings.” To the world, that seems counterintuitive – to rejoice in our sufferings? But Paul knows a deeper truth: when we walk the path with Christ, we grow the most in the valleys.

Paul identifies three products of suffering: perseverance, character, and hope. While these can definitely be the outcome of suffering, it is not always so. When faith is absent, suffering can instead produce anger and bitterness and other negative outcomes. Not that Christians don’t experience these things – it’s just not the end point. To experience suffering without faith feels final; it feels hopeless. But to walk through suffering in faith – that is very different.

Because we know God’s love poured out in our hearts and because we know that this life is but a foretaste of the glory to come, the sufferings of this life, while hard and painful and difficult, are things we endure. Yet they do not define us. Because we know these bigger truths of faith we learn to persevere in our suffering, trusting God’s love. Because we can persevere we build Christlike character as we walk with him in the valley. And because we develop Christlike character, we gain the ability to hold onto hope. With God’s love poured “into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” we are never alone. God is ever with us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I am so grateful that I am never alone. Your Spirit is always with me – sometimes leading, sometimes correcting, sometimes comforting… In all things you are my all in all. Thank you, Lord! Amen.


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All the Glory

Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Verse 17: “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

As we return to Romans 8 today we acknowledge that although we are led by the Spirit as daughters and sons of God, we will still experience times of suffering and trial and hardship. These things are simply part of the human condition. While some we know suffer more than we do and while some suffering makes no sense to us (like the recent shootings in New York and Texas), suffering comes to us all. Our human tendency is to withdraw, to isolate. Yet as children of God, we are invited to walk with God through the challenges of life.

In verse 17 we read, “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” First, we belong to God. You belong to God. I belong to God. Because of that we are heirs to all that God promises: forgiveness of sins, everlasting love, eternal presence. All that God was for Jesus, God wants to be for us. Jesus said that he and God were one as God was in him and he was in God. The same is true for us. The Spirit lives in us, inviting us to be one with God.

Second, Paul connects our sharing in Christ’s sufferings to our sufferings. During his lifetime Jesus experienced persecution and grief and others kinds of human suffering. At the end of his ministry he experienced great physical and spiritual suffering. But in all of these experiences Jesus did not rely on his own strength or power. He turned to God and sought God’s presence. He relied on God’s power and strength. This brought God the glory. We too can rely on God in our times of trial and hardship and suffering. Turning to God we too admit our need for God. Seeking God’s presence… we will experience just that, knowing that we are not alone. May we invite God into our lives, bringing God all the glory. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, in all times, good and bad, may I seek your presence. Remind me again and again of your love and faithfulness so that I may ever praise your name, bringing you all the glory. Amen.


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Overjoyed

Reading: John 20:19-31

Verse 20: “He showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

In our gospel passage Jesus appears twice to the disciples – once without Thomas and once with him there. Both encounters have some of the same elements. In spite of locked doors, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.” It was both a greeting and an assurance. Then, both times, he offers witness to who he is by showing them his hands and his side. This visual proof brings great joy to the disciples. Thomas voices it out loud, saying, “My Lord and my God!” We can assume that similar responses came during the first visit amongst the disciples.

At least part of their great joy comes from knowing that Jesus suffered for them. Another source of joy is the tangible reminder that God came in the flesh to experience what we experience. Suffering is a part of all of our lives. To know that God incarnate willingly took on suffering for us – that reveals a great love for you and for me. With Thomas we too can joyfully exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

Speaking towards the many who will come to faith without the visual proof that the disciples received, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We, of course, have the written witness to Jesus contained in both the Old and New Testaments. And we have those experiences, those moments, when Jesus’ presence became real and tangible to us during our suffering. These are personal proofs that Jesus is alive and is present to us. May we too be overjoyed each time we see the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, I am grateful, I am overjoyed as I recall the times when you were a tangible presence in my life. In each experience you were comfort, strength, assurance. Thank you for remaining a part of our world and my life. Amen.


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Darkness

Readings: John 18:25-28 and Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Verse 5: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.”

In the story line of Holy Week, by Friday morning Jesus has been arrested in the garden, has been found guilty by the religious leaders, and is brought to Pilate in the early morning. During the late night hours Jesus remained at Caiaphas’ house. Tradition has it that these hours were spent in a dungeon. It was a time alone, spent in a dark place. Perhaps this is what we read of in Isaiah 53:3 – “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” During this time, Peter will deny even knowing Jesus. Three times.

In spite of the rejection, the denial, the persecution, Jesus still chooses the cross. Isaiah 53:4 says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” The weight of the cross itself isn’t the only thing Jesus carried to Golgatha. As the early morning progresses, Jesus is sentenced to death by crucifixion. His body will be nailed to the cross in the third hour – about 9 am. In Isaiah 53:5 we read, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” The nails pierced his skin, the weight of the sin of the world lay heavy upon the innocent one. Verse 10 reminds us, “the Lord makes his life a guilt offering.” Verse 12: “he bore the sins of many.”

At noon darkness falls over the land. As our iniquities sit upon Jesus, all of creation mourns. Pouring out his life for us, Jesus breathes his last at about 3 pm. The body will hastily be placed in Joseph’s tomb – the Sabbath begins at sunset. All feels lost. All is wrapped in sorrow and grief. The incarnate one is dead.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for walking this difficult path for me and for all of humanity. You are familiar with our iniquities and suffering. Yet you chose love. Thank you. Amen.


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Ever Trust

Reading: Psalm 31:9-16

Verses 14-16: “But I trust in you, O Lord… My times are in your hands… save me in your unfailing love.”

In Psalm 31 David comes to God in a time of great distress, sorrow, and grief. It is a place most of us have been, so we can relate to David’s emotions. Some of us are there now, so we can feel David’s emotions. At times life causes our strength to fail and our bodies to grow weak. Our emotions exert a toll on our bodies. And maybe, like David, you too experienced or are experiencing a loss of friends during your time of suffering.

We walk through experiences of distress, sorrow, grief, loss, change over and over as we live our lives. Doing so we grow and we are equipped by God to walk with others as they experience these things. Just as we all remember this person or that person who was there for us, offering compassion or presence or support during our trial or suffering, we too can be that person for others.

Our passage today concludes with these words from verses 14-16: “But I trust in you, O Lord… My times are in your hands… save me in your unfailing love.” David first trusts in God. God is good and kind and loving. Trust in God. He then acknowledges that his time is in God’s hands. No one else is in control. No one. Acknowledging this truth releases it all to God. After asking God’s face to shine upon his (to be present to him), David asks for God to act in his unfailing love. This circles back around to trusting God and to acknowledging that God alone is in control. As we experience difficult times and as we choose to walk with others in difficult times, may we ever trust in our sovereign, all-powerful, loving God.

Prayer: Lord God, in your great love you guide us and you walk with us. All you have for us is for and by your purposes and plans. Help me to ever trust in your love, today and every day. Amen.


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Come and Follow

Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

Verse 7: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

In today’s passage from Isaiah we meet the “suffering servant.” These words apply to the author, Isaiah. Like yesterday’s Psalm 118, we can also read these words and hear and interpret and apply them to Jesus Christ. He was also a suffering servant. Today we are also invited to own these words, to take this mantle upon ourselves.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “The sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” God spoke to Isaiah, guiding his life and his words. God has given us the Bible. God has backed that up with the Holy Spirit. God offers us instruction and guidance. God gives us words to follow and words to speak to the weary, the exiled, the downtrodden, the hurting. Will we know and speak the word God gives us?

In verse 7 we read, “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.” First, note that it does not say “will not suffer.” The will and way of God is always good and right and holy. Because of this we will not be disgraced when we live and speak in alignment with God’s will and way. But because the will and way of the world is opposed to God’s will and way, we will face suffering and maybe persecution. Jesus invites us to walk the road he walked. In our divided and controversy filled would, leading with love and offering humble service can draw other’s ire.

Lastly, in verse 9 we read, “It is the sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that condemns me?” We can answer this question one of two ways. The easy way is to say, “No one!” If God is for us, who can be against us, right? Well, yes. But…

Is this how Jesus would answer the question? I believe that Jesus would say that he (or she) that condemns us is the one that we should love even more. They are the one we should seek to serve in even more meaningful ways. Jesus’ road was the road of the suffering servant – it was not an easy road. We are invited to come and follow Jesus. May we choose to walk the road of love and service, no matter the cost.

Prayer: Lord God, set my feet upon the path that Jesus walked. Instruct me by your word, guide and empower me by your Holy Spirit. 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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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.