pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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You Are Loved

Reading: Psalm 8:1

Verse 1: “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice”?

God is wisdom. God calls out to us in many ways. God is understanding. God raises her voice to help us to have understanding too. God calls out with a raised voice to get our attention, to help us hear the message: you are loved.

In our world there is plenty of negativity. On social media we find lots and lots of negativity. News outlets of all kinds overflow with negative stories. In our personal lives we too often deal with critics and others who are negative towards us or our efforts. Add to all of this the normal trials and hardships of life. Taken together, this can be difficult to deal with and it can quickly feel defeating.

In the selection from Proverbs 8 that we read yesterday, we saw how God delights in us and rejoices over us. God calls out to us over and over in scripture to let us know how much we are loved and valued. In Genesis 1:27 we read that we were “created in his own image”. In Psalm 139 we are reminded that we were knit together in the womb by God’s own hand. In Jeremiah 1:5 we read that “before you were born you were set apart”. We are reminded in Matthew 6 that we are loved and cared for by God – and are much more beautiful than the lilies! In John 14:18 we are told that we will never be orphaned – Jesus will always be with us. These are but a handful of the many passages that tell us how dearly we are loved. In so many ways, God shouts out: you are loved.

We are loved indeed. Today, may we go forth to share that love with others, helping all to know God’s love today.

Prayer: God of love, so fill me with your love so that it overflows into the lives of all I meet today. Amen.

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Blessing, Woe

Reading: Luke 6: 17-26

Verses 17-18: “A great number of people… had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases”.

In Jesus’ ministry, His teaching and healing were often connected. People were drawn to the healing that Jesus’ physical touch would bring. In today’s passage we read, “A great number of people… had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases”. For those there were in need of physical healing, we read that they only needed to touch Jesus to experience healing. I imagine the crowd was milling around and pressing in on Jesus.

As Jesus begins to speak He addresses both the blessings and woes that people experience. The words that Jesus speak also offer healing. Through the “blessed are you” statements, Jesus offers the hope of a promised better life. These words bring comfort, reassurance, and healing. He also offers several “woe to you” statements. These words bring warning, conviction, and, ultimately, they offer healing to those living in sin. If all present will allow Jesus’ words to touch them, they can experience spiritual healing.

The first three “blessed are” statements deal with those who are poor, hungry, and weeping. To these, Jesus attached a future hope and promise. The fourth speaks to those who are being persecuted because of their faith in Christ. Jesus reminds them that they walk with Him. For all people, life has trials and sufferings. To those that day living with these, Jesus offers eternal hope as He says, “rejoice in that day” because “great is your reward in heaven”. Keep the faith, keep your eyes on Christ, trust in what is to come.

Jesus also addresses those who are enjoying life now. He speaks to those who are rich, well fed and to those who are laughing and are thought well of by men. Jesus says woe to these because they are pursuing and enjoying the things of this earth, all of which are temporary. The when or will statements apply to the life of torment that will come as well.

We live with the same choice to make. Our priorities, our focus, our faith, our concern for others – these things will bring us blessings or woes. Do we hunger for the Word? Are we concerned for and engaged with the poor? Do we weep with those who are suffering or struggling? Do we speak up and live out our faith courageously and boldly? These are the things that will bring blessing. May these be the things we pursue and chase after. Then all the glory will be to God.

Prayer: Lord, help me to live first for you and then for others. In all I say and do, may love be my lead and my guide. Amen.


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Present

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

Verses 16-17: “God has made my heart faint… yet I am not silenced by the darkness”.

Today’s passage is probably a familiar scene to all of us. Some have yet to experience this to the extent that Job has experienced it, but for all people life will have moments of pain and hardship.

Job lived in a time we have a hard time relating to. The common understanding or answer to the “Why?” question was because one had sinned. In ancient Judaism, hardship, disease, illness – all were the consequences of sin. Job knew in his heart of hearts that he was right before God. And he accepted what had happened to him without blaming God and without seeking a reversal of the circumstances. He just wants an audience with God. In verse 7 Job says, “There an upright man could present his case before Him”. He just wants the suffering to end. He just wants to return to a relationship with his God.

Job’s friends have tried to convince Job of why he is suffering. They have encouraged Job to search within to find that sin number in his life that is obviously causing all the suffering. In our time, we do not see pain and suffering as God punishing us for our sins. This does not square with our understanding of God being loving and compassionate and with the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Job’s friends also offer pithy sayings to try and help Job feel better. Unfortunately, at times we too can do this. “Everything happens for a reason” and other similar statements only demonstrate our lack of theological understanding. They do not bring comfort and peace. They only lead to negative emotions and more questions. In that awkward space we feel like we must talk, that we must say things. We don’t have to. A hug and a simple “I love you”, followed by just being present, sitting there in the hurt and pain, is sufficient.

In our passage Job says, “God has made my heart faint… yet I am not silenced by the darkness”. He is tired. He is feeling broken. Yet he will not be silenced. He wants to express his anger, his questions, his laments. He does not want answers or attempts at explanations. He just wants to give voice to what is inside of him. He needs his friends to listen and to be compassionate. He needs them to just be present with him in his pain and suffering. To do so is a great demonstration of love. When we find ourselves in this situation with a friend or loved one, may we simply be present in the pain and grief, listening, loving, being present.

Lord, it is hard to simply be a presence in the midst of pain and suffering. Strengthen me to simply be love and to show compassion. If words need said, may your Spirit speak your words through me. Amen.


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Oh Those Thorns!

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Verse Nine: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”.

Paul opens chapter twelve with the revelation of heaven that he experienced. To keep him from being too conceited, he was “given a thorn in my flesh”. ‘Thorn’ implies that it was painful and hard to endure. The ‘thorn’ tormented Paul. And just like we would and do do in a heartbeat, Paul “pleaded with the Lord to take it away”. We do not like to endure pain or suffering or hardship. Neither did Paul.

God’s response is wonderful. In response to Paul’s pleading, God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. It is in moments of pain that we must turn to God to carry us through. It is in moments of weakness that we must rely on God for strength. It is in moments of heartache that we most need God’s grace and love. It has often been said that the view from the mountaintop is wonderful but we grow most in the valleys. Paul’s vision was his mountaintop and the thorn was his valley.

At times in our lives we will certainly suffer trials and hardships. I believe these occur two basic ways. One way, I believe the most common, is simply because life is naturally hard at times. We live in a world where people are imperfect, where disease and illness are part of the cycle of life, and where our free will does not always lead to good decisions. I also believe that we encounter a ‘thorn’ like Paul did at times. Sometimes the thorn comes to remind us that we have strayed from God. It is a poke back towards a right relationship with God. Sometimes the thorn is what it was for Paul – to remind us of our limited ability to control anything and of our absolute need for God. To me, this is Romans 8:28 lived out: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”.

Thorns in life are hard. God’s words illicited this response from Paul: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. May we also trust in, turn to, and rely on God at all times. It is there that Christ’s power shines in and from us. May we acknowledge our own weaknesses and, in doing so, may we reveal how strong we are in Christ. Amen.


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Receive God’s Grace

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse One: “As fellow workers, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain”.

When we look at Paul’s hardships listed in verses three through five, one might question taking up a life of faith. Yes, life itself will bring all of these hardships at times, but to choose a life’s journey that almost invites these seems like a tough choice to make. To be a Christian in today’s world is not an easy task. Our culture is not very well aligned to Christian values any longer.

As one moves on to verses four through six, it gets a little better but there are still undesirables on that list. In these verses Paul begins to paint the picture that this difficult journey is worth it. The Christian Life is a life of genuine love and fellowship, of eternal hope and real joy. Yet the world and our culture will say one can find love and joy and happiness without walking the narrow way of faith. Culture says there is an easier way.

All one has to do to find love and joy and happiness is to work a little harder and to be willing to take advantage or exploit another on occasion. Yes, a day of rest and time with God and family might be fun, but it will cost you. Come on, lots of people work on Sunday. You might miss a ball game or recital here and there or a birthday if the potential payoff is big. Don’t worry – there will be other events that you will be at. These are the lies of the world. These are the ways that we convince ourselves that it is okay to work on Sundays and evenings.

Paul opens today’s passage asking the Corinthians and us to “not to receive God’s grace in vain”. Receive it and allow it to change you. Receive it and pass it on to others. Receive it and gain a sense of hope that the world cannot give. Allow God to bring you hope in times of sorrow, peace in times of stress, joy in times of despair, and love in times of hate and anger. Receive God’s grace and allow it to open your heart wide. Walk the narrow and hard road of faith and find life. Amen and amen.


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Saying “Yes”

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse Two: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”.

In some ways, Paul’s view of ministry differs from ours today. He lists a handful of things that are commendable: trouble, hardship, distress, imprisonment, sleepless nights, hunger. While we are sometimes willing to endure these things for our faith, we do not often intentionally put ourselves out there to experience these things. Yet many people do endure these things. Today we journey home from a mission trip where we met lots of folks who experience these things on a daily basis.

Paul also gives us another list. He offers commendation for purity, patience, kindness, love, and truthful speech. These are characteristics that we all want to possess and share with others. These are the traits that we want to be known for. Yet, as Paul also acknowledges, we most often find ourselves between these two lists.

Paul shares that we usually find ourselves between bad and good reports, between being seen as genuine and as imposters, between dying and living, as sorrowful yet rejoicing, and as having nothing yet possessing everything. We often did find ourselves in the middle, tending towards one end or the other. We seek to be living for God, yet when we are honest, we spend a lot of time pursuing what we want and desire. It is a battle.

In verse two Paul writes, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. The key word is ‘now’. It is an important word. On our mission trips we usually end up centering on a phrase or expression that seems to encapsulate the trip. This year what became our central thought was saying “yes” to those opportunities that God gives us, to answer when He calls. Many of our youth and adults had opportunity to do so this week. Great blessings were poured out from heaven upon both us and those we worked with because of the yeses.

The time is now. Today God wants to bless you with His favor. Today God wants you to experience His salvation. Today and each day may we ever be open to the opportunity that God provides – whether in hardship or joy, whether in sorrow or kindness. May we too be willing to say yes to God. Amen.


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Come Quickly

Reading: Psalm 70

Verse One: “Hasten, O Lord, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me”.

Today’s Psalm is like a little of other Psalms in their intent. This Psalm is one of many that cry out to God for help and protection and deliverance. Many of these Psalms speak of the trial and suffering that is leading the psalmist to open with these words: “Hasten, O Lord, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me”. The psalmist is in need of God’s presence and help. This prayer of David is beneficial to us for several reasons.

One reason is to remind us that all people everywhere have hardships in their lives from time to time, us included. It is simply part of life. In reading how a king so great as David could have troubles just like ours troubles somehow lessens ours or at least makes us feel not so alone the n our struggle.

A second reason is to give us a pattern of prayer that we can use ourselves. This prayer of David can become our prayer for God’s presence and help. In those moments when we feel like others are against us and we need God’s intervention and saving and deliverance, we can pray Psalm 70.

A third and perhaps most important reason is to remind us that it is not only okay to ask for help but that God desires it. When we turn to God for help, we are acknowledging our need for God. In doing so, we build up our relationship because we are being honest and vulnerable. At times we can have difficulty asking for help. It feels weak and runs counter to our rugged individualism mentality that is fueled by pride and ego. Yet if the great King David needed to ask for help, surely so can we. In doing so, we are also practicing humility.

Sometimes we can even ask for help from one another in a time of need. In this we are admitting our imperfections and our inability to do it on our own. This act of humility feels risky. But it admits our need for one another as well. It admits our need for community and friendship and belonging. There we also find great love and support.

When life rains on us, may we ever turn to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ. In our weakness, they give strength. May we come quickly to those around us. May we ever have the courage to trust in God and in one another.