pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hold Tightly

Reading: Genesis 32: 22-31

Verse 24: Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.

God directs Jacob to return home.  He is being led to return to the family that he tricked and stole from.  This worries Jacob.  As he nears home, he sends all his family and all he owns across the stream and he remains alone on the far side.  The scene is set for some alone time with God.

At times we find ourselves in a similar situation.  We are returning to or going someplace that causes us some fear or worry or anxiety.  We may be the cause of it or it could be from things outside of us that are causing the uneasiness.  Yet we know we must go.  Here we too seek some guidance or direction or encouragement from God.  We want to know that we do not go alone.

“Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him till daybreak”.  As turmoil stirs around inside Jacob, a man comes and wrestles with him.  It could be an angel.  It could be a man sent by God.  It could be God.  Whatever the case, Jacob realizes that this is a powerful foe and this leads him to demand a blessing.  He has already sent quite a blessing across the stream – his wives and children, his large herds and flocks, and his many possessions.  Yet he demanded more.  God has blessed him and now he asks for more.
In our times of trial and stress, we who have also been blessed often go to God asking for more.  Sometimes God will allow us to do a bit of wrestling too.  God will allow us to sit in our feelings of uncertainty and fear because it leads us back to Him.  He wants to know if we too will hold on tightly.  Jacob does not give up in the wrestling match and he is rewarded.  He receives a new name – Israel – the one who struggled with God.  Jacob departs the scene knowing that God is with him.  It is now a hopeful future for Jacob.

At times we too will wrestle with God.  We too will struggle and ask the “why” questions.  In this story we see that God is faithful to those who hold tightly to Him, to those who remain steadfast.  May we ever hold tightly to our God, trusting in His blessings.


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Seven Years

Reading: Genesis 29: 15-28

Verse 20: Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

Jacob came to work for Laban after fleeing from home.  Jacob was his sister’s son, so Laban took him in.  After a month, Laban was coming to appreciate Jacob’s work, so he asks Jacob what he would like in exchange for his efforts.  Jacob has fallen in love with the beautiful Rachel so he names her as his desire and offers to work for seven years for her hand in marriage.  As I think about his offer, it seems like a long time.  Rarely does a dating relationship last longer than a few years unless marriage is the plan.  In such cases, people date for a while, consider and talk of marriage, and then set the date.  For most with marriage on the mind, they will cut it off and move on pretty quickly if the other is not “the one”.

Extending the idea of working for seven years, what would one be willing to work for for seven years?  If I had my mind on a new car, for example, would I be willing to work for seven years, saving a little each month, until I had enough money to buy that car?  In a job, would I be willing to work for seven years to make that next step up the chain of command or to earn that first raise?  Yet in the context of today’s story, these things are small targets or goals.  When our thoughts move outside the concrete, there are many things we work much longer than seven years for.  When we do so, these are the things that really matter in life.

I look at my marriage and see something that I am still willing to work hard for.  I look at my college-age and post-college children and see many years of raising them and am still very dedicated to working at raising them.  And then I turn to my faith.  At 51, this is a journey longer than any other in my life, yet I still continue to seek to draw closer to God.  Looking back, I can see how my relationship has grown and deepened.  Seven years seems like a small blip on the timeline.  In this sense, I can relate to Jacob.  Seven years “seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her”.  May our love for God ever be the same.


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Pearls and Treasures

Reading: Matthew 13: 44-52

Verses 44 and 46: Then in his joy… he sold all he had… he sold everything…

In our first two parables today, the ‘man’ in each comes into contact with something of great worth and both joyfully sell all they own to acquire what they have found.  The meaning for us relates to the value of the kingdom of God.  Once we come into contact with God’s kingdom we too are willing to give anything or everything to possess it.  The discovery process can vary.  One man happened upon it while the other was searching.  So it is with our faith journeys.  Some people are born into a family of faith, some happen into faith as God powerfully acts in their lives, and others come to a place in life that leads them to actively seek God.

The third parable today is another reminder of why we should seek the kingdom of God.  At the end of the age we will all be drawn into the symbolic net.  All people will be judged by God.  Some will be deemed ‘good’ and go on to eternal glory in God’s presence.  Others will be deemed ‘bad’ and will be condemned to eternal punishment.  Some will be ‘collected’ and others will be ‘thrown away’.

No matter how or why we come to be a part of God’s kingdom, to be a part of God’s kingdom is of great value.  The value is both temporal and eternal.  In the temporal, as we live in relationship with God and Jesus, we find strength and comfort, peace and joy, contentment and blessing, mercy and forgiveness, and so much more.  In the eternal we have our hope.  When all things are made new then there will be no pain or tears or sadness or need.  We will dwell in God’s new kingdom and live forever in His light and love, realizing the great value of being part of the kingdom of God.

After telling these three parables, Jesus asks them if they have “understood these things”.  After an affirmative answer, Jesus tells them that now they are “like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old”.  Just as the disciples were ‘owners’ so too are we.  These parables and the whole Bible that we can read fill our storehouse.  The parables and teachings in the Bible are the things of great worth.  As we read and reflect on the Word, we continue to ponder the pearls and also to discover the hidden treasures as the living Word continues to speak into our lives.  As we continue on our journey of faith, may we continue to be in the Word so that we may ever grow in the knowledge and love of God.


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In All Things

Reading: Romans 8: 31-39

Verse 37: In all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

Paul opens our passage with a great question.  He asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us”?  He opens this section with a question and the answer leads to his first point.  That point is that if God have His only Son then He will certainly give us anything else we need too.  God is our ultimate good Father who will give us all good things because He loves us.

The next question, who will condemn, is asked in a similar way – to set up the answer.  It is a legitimate question because in our lives we do much that deserves condemnation from a God who is perfect in all ways.  But condemnation is not what we receive.  Instead we receive forgiveness and love.  Instead of being condemned by the one who was without sin, we are defended by Jesus.  Jesus intercedes for us before the Father.  He who has walked in our shoes speaks up for us in heaven.

The third question has the best answer.  Paul asks, “Who will separate us from the love of God”?  The answer is quite a list.  In reality the answer is nothing can separate us.  Paul lists some of the common things that can separate us – persecution, famine, danger, nakedness, death, demons, worry about the future.  Tying back into our recent parables, these are the thorns and weeds along our path.  Yet when we remain faithful and keep our hope and trust in God, we find that nothing can separate us from the love of God we find in Jesus Christ.  It is a deep and eternal love.  It is an everlasting and encompassing love.  It is a love for which I am very grateful.

The God who is for us, the God who gives forgiveness instead of condemnation, brings us victory.  “In all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us”.  Thank you God for the victory.


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Gardeners and Bakers

Reading: Matthew 13: 31-33

Verses 31 and 33: The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed… like yeast.

Our two parables today are seemingly about something small – a tiny mustard seed and some yeast.  These two parables follow two others.  One is about the receptivity and sticking power of a seed of faith and the other about the weeds of sin that can grow in people’s lives.  Taken in the context of the today’s parables, the previous two are all about the planting of a small seed as well.

Just as the tiny mustard seed becomes a large tree that gives shelter and rest to many, the tiny yeast works its way through the whole batch of dough, causing it all to rise.  These are like the good seeds planted in the good soil that produce a crop 100, 60, or 30 times what was sown.  Satan’s “bad” seeds also work the same way – producing a crop that must be bundled at harvest time.

This brings us to two questions.  First, how are we planting seeds or being yeast?  Second, what kinds of seed or yeast are we planting or mixing in?  Like the sower and the baker, we are called to work in and through all areas of our lives – at work, at home, at church, on the ball field, in the restaurant… – and with all we meet all the time.  Like the mustard seed, we are called to offer even the smallest of kind words or the simplest act of kindness, trusting that God can do a mighty work through any act of love or kindness or grace or mercy or … that we can offer.  How? Any place, any size, any time.

Hopefully we are choosing to sow good seeds and to act as good yeast.  In our simple and small acts and words we want others to see Jesus.  If we are all-in, 24/7 Christians then we are like the yeast – permeating all aspects of our own lives with our faith as well as permeating the lives of those we cross paths with each day.  What kind?  The kind that speaks love.  The kind that Jesus spoke.

The small seeds and the simple leavening yeast bear witness to the love of Jesus Christ in us and to the love He wants to share with the whole world.  May we be good gardeners and bakers today.


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Reason to Praise

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-11 and 45b

Verse Four: Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.

The Psalm begins with encouragement to give our thanks to God and to sing our praises to Him.  In singing our praises, the psalmist instructs us to “tell of all His wonderful acts”.  For the Israelites, God had acted in mighty and dramatic ways.  As a people, they have many touchstone moments when God has actively intervened.  In most cases, these are positive experiences that are remembered and celebrated.  Sometimes these are national events like the Exodus story and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  Sometimes they are personal stories – like the story of David and Goliath.  These moments all recall God’s love for His chosen people and their response is to praise and worship God.

On occasion they are stories of correction and sometimes of consequences for poor choices or ungodly living.  Noah and the flood and the periods of occupation and exile are key reminders of what happens when the people stray from God and His love.  Yet each of these stories had a silver lining because in the end the people return to a God who continues to love them anyway.  This realization also leads to the praise and worship of God.

As we fast forward to 2017, we are also the people of God.  As we look back over the last 10, 20, or more years of our own faith journeys we too can see the God we love at work in our story of faith.  We too can “tell of all His wonderful acts”.  There are moments when God has moved and we have been led to our own promised land or when we have slayed our own Goliaths.  Our faith has grown in these times.  And there are our times of wandering in the dessert and times when Satan’s temptations did lead to sin.  In these times, God never gave up or abandoned us. We too remained loved and cherished by God.  We found redemption and came back into the great love of God.  God’s love always remains constant.  What a reason to praise!  All of these experiences, both the good and the bad, remind us to always “Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always”.


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Intercessor One

Reading: Romans 8: 26-39

Verse 26: We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.

Paul knew that we, as humans, are weak.  He knew from his own faith journey that living the life of faith cannot be done on our own.  Through his own life, Paul has discovered that the Holy Spirit is an essential part of one’s faith.  It is only through the power and presence of the Spirit in the life of a believer that one can overcome our human weaknesses.

A key role the Holy Spirit plays in our lives is that of intercessor.  The Spirit works as an advocate for us, coming before God with prayers on our behalf.  When we do not know what to pray for or how to put our mess into words, then the Spirit takes over.  Verse 26 speaks of this: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us”.  In this way, the Holy Spirit is always bringing our needs before the throne of God.

The second way the Spirit prays for us begins with God searching our hearts.  In doing so, our weaknesses and shortcomings are revealed and the Spirit prays for these “in accordance with the will of God”.  In this way the Spirit helps to form and shape us into the person God created us to be.  Through this prayerful transformation process, we grow to become more like Jesus, the image of God.  As our faith grows and we become more mature in our faith, we become justified through the saving work of Jesus.  In our humanity we will always be weak.  Therefore we will stumble and fall now and then.  In these moments, the love of God again enters in and we are made righteous by His grace.  It is through Jesus that our weakness is made spiritually strong.  Through all of this the Holy Spirit continues to lift us up in prayer, to bring our needs before God, and to reveal in us what needs to conform more to the likeness of Christ.  Thank you God for the gift of the Holy Spirit.