pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Standing Firm

Reading: Luke 21:12-19

Verse 12: “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.”

In the opening verses of this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus told the disciples of the false prophets and difficult events that will come. Shifting to a much more personal focus Jesus tells his followers, “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.” Those who follow Jesus will be imprisoned and will stand trial before earthly powers. The way of Jesus runs counter to the ways of the world. Instead of accumulating more and more for self, Jesus calls for generosity towards those without. Instead of using power to dominate relationships, Jesus calls for love to guide all we do and say. Instead of using others to further our own interests and desires, Jesus calls us to walk alongside and to lift others up.

In and of themselves, these things that Jesus calls us to are not likely to land us in hot water. But living this way shines a light on the darkness of the world. That creates tension with power. Standing for justice and equality and redemption are also all good things – until they challenge systems that work against these values of God. It is then that power rises against the followers of Christ.

Jesus offers the disciples and us today words of encouragement. First, these trials will be opportunities to witness to our faith. Second, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will “give you words and wisdom.” Opponents will not be able to speak or stand against us. And third, “by standing firm you will gain life.” This is a both/and promise. Because of the Holy Spirit power within, we will be freed from the cares and worries of this world. And because of that, we are able to live towards the eternal glory found in Christ.

Jesus warns us that it will not be an easy road. But he also promises us that the path of discipleship will transform our life and the world around us. May we ever be faithful.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with Holy Spirit power each day. Give me a holy compassion for all who are held down, held back, held below. Through your power and presence, use me to lift others up and to free them from the darkness of this world. Amen.


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Faithfulness

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:16-18

Verse 17: “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed.”

Photo credit: Jean Wimnerlin

As we join Paul again today in 2nd Timothy 4, this section begins with a story of abandonment. Much as it was with Jesus when he stood before Pilate, no one is there to support Paul. In the verses between yesterday’s and today’s passages, Paul comments on those who have abandoned him and he asks Timothy to come visit. Paul, like all of us, values company and support in difficult times. Graciously, Paul asks that the fear that held them away not be held against them.

In the next verse, Paul boldly identifies who was present, who strengthened and supported him as he stood before the emperor. In verse 17 we read, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed.” Paul felt Jesus right there by his side. He drew on a strength that was not his own. Now, standing before the emperor – one who was well known for his violent responses to any and all who opposed him – Paul could have quietly offered “yes sir” and “no sir” responses. Not Paul. We read that he fully proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ right then and there. And instead of being whisked away for a quick and sudden death, he was “rescued from the lion’s mouth.” Paul survived to preach another sermon, to live another day.

This boosts Paul’s faith and his trust in the Lord. This is what allows him to write with confidence that “the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” What a great example of both God’s faithfulness and of Paul’s faith that trusts fully in the Lord! May we strive to live out such trust and faith this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, when I find myself in unfavorable times and places, may my faith not waiver. May I be as bold and courageous as Paul, trusting fully in you and standing surely on my faith. Bring me too through the trials. Amen.


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Over and Over

Reading: Psalm 66:1-12

Verse 9: “God has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.”

Psalm 66 comes from what many refer to as the hymnal of the Bible. The original use of the Psalms was just that – songs of worship. Some were songs of ascent – sung in the way up to the temple. Some were songs of theology – songs that told of God’s truths and character. Some were songs of lament – songs of trial and suffering. Psalm 66 primarily falls into this last category. Even though it is a song of lament, like most of the other Psalms, it has an element of hope. This hope ever remains because God is always present, especially in the trials and sufferings.

Psalm 66 begins with praise to God. Even in times of difficulty, it is good to begin our prayers by remembering God’s power and might. It places us in the right perspective to pour out our hearts to God. The central remembrance here is the parting of the sea, when God saved Israel from Pharaoh’s army. In verse 9 the song sings, “God has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.” That is Israel’s story over and over. It is the psalmist’s story over and over. It is our story over and over.

In verses 10-12 the psalmist recalls God’s “testing” and how God has always “refined us like silver” during these times. The psalmist remembers the times of passing through“fire and water” and how these difficulties“brought us to a place of abundance.” Yes, hardship and trial come. But God is always present, always working for our ultimate good. God’s faithfulness gives us hope. God’s love and grace gives us the promise of a better future. When the inevitable comes – the trial, the suffering, the hardship – may we ever remember God’s over and over presence, love, and grace. Doing so, may we too sing songs of praise.

Prayer: Lord God, time and time again you have seen me through. Over and over you have brought me through the valley and back into abundant life with you. I know that you are faithful. I know that your love knows no bounds. You are so good to me. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Only Then

Reading: Psalm 80:1-2 and 8-19

Verse 2: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Psalm 80 is a plea to God. The psalmist observes an invasion and the sure defeat of a close neighbor. The wave sweeping across the known world is now knocking on Judah’s doorstep. Judah – the two southern tribes – have watched with horror as Israel – the ten northern tribes – have been destroyed by the mighty Assyrians. This reality is the source of Asaph’s plea: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Turning to verse 8, the psalmist reminds God of their history together. God brought them out of Egypt. God cleared the nations and the ground, providing the Promised Land for the Israelites. God protected them and they prospered – growing from the mighty river to the great sea. I’m not sure, though, who Asaph is trying to remind more here: God or Judah? Remember all that God has done for us! Or… God, remember all you’ve done for Judah.

At times we can play this game. At least I do. When difficulty or trial loons, I’ve reminded God of all that God’s done, thinking maybe God will intervene on my behalf. Yet sometimes I need to walk the valley. Sometimes God has some pruning to do. And that begins with surrender.

Judah looks at what has befallen Israel and hopes to avoid a similar fate. Asaph asks God, “Why have you…?” He then quickly shifts to bartering. Verse 17 is the “if you will, God” and verse 18 is the “then we will” parts. This too is familiar ground, isn’t it?

The trouble for Judah is, I believe, they have it backwards. Just as with the plea in verse 2, they expect God to just act. But we must be the first to be faithful, often confessing and repenting our sins, seeking to walk in a right relationship with God. Only then will God hear our prayers.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me in a faithful walk with you day by day. Lead me to always look within and then to root out what I do and say and think that separates me from you. Strengthen me to prepare my heart and soul so that I can stand before you in prayer. Thank you, O Lord. 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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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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Exalt the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 99:6-9

Verse 9: “Exalt the Lord our God, worship at the holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.”

Photo credit: Ben White

In the second half of our Psalm for this week the psalmist reminds us of God’s faithfulness to Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. These are but a few of the many examples of God faithfully responding to the prayers of the faithful. We are also reminded today of how God “spoke to them from the pillar of cloud.” During the exodus from Egypt, the pillar of cloud was a constant companion to the Israelites. It was a physical representation of an eternal truth: God is always with us.

Verse eight acknowledges another truth: God is both a forgiving God and a punishing God. Over the grand arc of scripture we see that most of the time forgiveness is God’s primary preference. But at times God acts to break open hard hearts or to force an end to sinful living. For our God who is quick to forgive, meeting out consequences is always a final or last resort. When we find ourselves in the valley or in a difficult situation sometimes we can confuse God’s patience with the feeling that we are being punished.

When we pray to God we often expect answers now. Staying in that place of discomfort or pain or disorientation is not anything we like. But God always has a plan, a purpose, a good. During the suffering we might even feel separated from God, alone in our struggle. Often we only see what God was up to well after we emerge from the trial. These moments of reflection and insight build trust in God and deepen our relationship with God. These allow us to follow the call of the psalmist, declaring, “Exalt the Lord our God, worship at the holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.” May it always be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen my faith day by day. On the good days lead me to joyfully celebrate your love and presence in my life. On the bad days, remind me again of your faithfulness, goodness, and holiness, leading me to walk in faith. 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.