pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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God’s Abiding Presence

Reading: Psalm 124

Verse 1: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

Photo credit: Shane

Although the Psalm is filled with times of trial, it is a song of ascent, a song of praise. These words of David recognize the difficulties and hardships of life and also remind us of God’s abiding and constant presence. God’s presence does not isolate or shield us from pain or grief or conflict or unwanted change but does walk with us through all of life.

The phrase “if the Lord had not been on our side…” leads into a series of times of challenge. If not for the Lord, when the enemy attacked and their anger rose, then they would have “swallowed us alive.” The attack was like a flood that would have engulfed them and swept them away – “if the Lord had not been on our side…” When my loved one died suddenly and the grief began to paralyze me, if not for the Lord I would have become totally overwhelmed. If not for the Lord, I could not have moved on after unexpectedly losing my job. When the diagnosis rang in my ears, I would have spiraled down and down if not for the Lord’s abiding presence. We too can sing of the Lord’s presence in our times of trial and hardship. We too can say over and over: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

The Psalm connects well into yesterday’s call to know and share our faith story. Each of these moments when God walked through the valley with us strengthens our faith. Each of our experiences with God’s abiding presence reinforces the truth that “our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” When God places another in our path that is walking through a valley that we’ve been through, may we come alongside them to share the story of God’s abiding presence.

Prayer: Lord God, I don’t like walking through the valleys. Yet I know that they are a part of life. Thank you for being there with me in those times of pain and loss and hurt. Empower me to walk with others through their valleys. 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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Always Greater

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse 10: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything”.

Much of today’s passage centers on the hardships of faithful service to the Lord Jesus Christ. For Paul and the early followers, suffering for one’s faith was an honor, a privilege. It represented walking as Jesus had walked. To be worthy of suffering as Jesus suffered meant you were really living out your faith. But it was not just suffering for suffering’s sake. There was fruit too.

These moments of hardship often brought Paul and others to the point of breaking, to the place of surrender to God. That moment of giving in to God, of turning it all over to him, was the moment that grace and love came flooding in. When we too get to that point of recognition we too cry out to God for help in our time of trouble. It is then that we often receive God’s favor and are reminded of the salvation that is always ours from the moment we claim it. In ways we do not understand or see at the moment, God carries us through.

When we pause later to reflect, to express our gratitude to God, then we see how his power was at work in and through that situation. Our faith grows as we recognize God’s faithfulness. As these moments occur again and again, we become more and more assured of God’s faithfulness. We begin to better understand Paul’s words in verse ten: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything”. Hardships and trials come, but we grow to know that God’s grace and love are always greater. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Faithful God, no matter what life brings, you’re always greater. Thank you for the ways that your love and grace have carried me through. You are an awesome and amazing God! Amen.


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Our Refuge and Stronghold

Reading: Psalm 9: 9-20

Verse 9: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble”.

In today’s Psalm there is a deep sense of trust in God’s power and might. The Psalm begins with David praising God “with all my heart”, rejoicing in the downfall of the enemy, celebrating God’s righteousness and justice. As we begin today in verse nine David writes, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble”. A refuge is a place of protection, a place of safety. It is a place where one finds peace and respite. One feels secure in a stronghold. One is able to regroup, to catch one’s breath, to ready oneself to reengage.

The danger of a literal refuge or stronghold is that we can want to simply stay there, to remain disconnected or distanced from the oppression or trouble. In the New Testament Jesus told us that we would face trial and abuse and oppression and hatred. A solid walk of faith comes with a cost, a price to pay at times. Amidst the persecution that David is facing he cries out to God, asking, “Have mercy and lift me up”. He turns to God, trusting in God’s power, leaning into his presence, declaring “the Lord is known by his justice”. When we are faithful, when we are walking out our faith in alignment with God’s will and ways, then we too can lean into God in times of oppression and trouble, trusting in our refuge and stronghold to lead us through. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever present, always hearing the prayers of those who trust in you. In those times of trial or trouble, remind me again and again that you are ever my strength and my shield. Your love always surrounds me. Thank you and amen!