pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Put to Test

Reading: Genesis 22: 1-14

Verse 12: Now I know that you fear God, because you did not withhold from me your son.

As our story continues, Abraham and Isaac reach the mountain.  Abraham proceeds to build an altar and arranges wood on it.  As he is doing this, I wonder what is going through his mind.  Is he trying to think a way out?  Is he thinking of all the ways that God has blessed him?  Is he thinking of the promise?  Or is he praying?  Or is his mind a blank?

Then Abraham binds up his only son and lays him on the altar.  Isaac, at some point, became aware of the answer to his question: where is the lamb?  I cannot imagine what it would be like to be in Abraham’s position.  I would have probably been more like Jonah – running away, looking for a place to hide.  Abraham’s faithfulness is amazing to me.  His obedience to God is unflinching.

Just as he raises the knife to make the sacrifice, God calls out.  At just the last second, God intercedes.  Our passage begins with, “some time later God tested Abraham”.  Indeed.  Abraham passed the test and in the next verses, the angel of the Lord again renews the promise.

At times we too are put to the test.  Sometimes our test seems just as big as sacrificing one’s own son.  So at times we can relate.  We can also look back and see when we were put to the test.  And we can see how God provides and how God is faithful.  Thanks be to God.


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Trust

Reading: Genesis 22: 1-7

Verse Two: Then God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac… sacrifice him there”.

Abraham had a tremendous amount of respect for God.  They had a very good relationship.  Abraham has seen promises of God come true over and over.  The capstone of these has been the birth of his son, the heir he finally had, at age 100.  Abraham raised the young boy amidst God’s care and protection.  Life is truly blessed for Abraham.

Then God says to him, “Take your son, your only son Isaac… sacrifice him there”.  The words must have hit him like a ton of bricks.  There is no questioning, no reply, no ‘but…’.  The text simply tells us that early the next morning Abraham gathered wood and fire and a knife and headed out with Isaac and two servants.  Abraham and Isaac leave the servants and donkey behind and continue the journey themselves.  As they walk along, Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb?”. Young Isaac senses something is missing: wood, fire, knife.  Lamb?  It is another hard conversation.

Isaac asks the obvious question.  That question must have rolled around over and over in Abraham’s mind.  His response is simple: God will provide.  Isaac must have had tremendous respect for God too.  They turn and continue up the mountain.  I cannot imagine the things on Abraham’s mind.  Or was nothing on his mind?  Did he fully expect God to provide a lamb?  Or did he accept the fact that God was asking for the first fruits, the son that God had miraculously provided?

At times God has hard conversations with us too.  At times, God asks us to do something that seems extraordinary.  At times, He says, “Trust me” and expects us to walk forward in faith.  May we, like Abraham, trust and obey God.


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Big Plan

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-21

Verse 12: It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.

God’s big plan is at work.  Sometimes it is hard to see the big plan from our own limited vantage point.  From our small view sometimes we cannot see very far.  In today’s passage, God knows the big plan.  He says to Abraham, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned”.  This is the big plan.  The nation of Israel will come through Isaac – his child with wife Sarah.  It fulfills the promise made long ago.  The covenant involves divine guidance and blessing.

The big picture even influences the writers of Genesis.  Notice that in our passage the name ‘Ishmael’ is not used.  The writers instead use ‘son’ and ‘boy’.  Maybe the story is less personal that way.  Yet when we look at Abraham, we see that this is very personal.  It is his son Ishmael that must be cast out.  It is his first born son that he must send out into the desert.  Even though it is part of God’s big plan, this is a hard thing that Abraham is being asked to do.  He is stuck in his small view.

As Abraham teeters in the balance, God gives him some reassurance.  In a way, God is saying, ‘truth’ me’.  Abraham has had lots of experience trusting God when he could not see the big plan, so he trusts once again in God and follows obediently.  At times we find ourselves in a situation similar to Abraham’s.  The things that we need to ‘send out’ are often sins or other things that we can see we need to let go.  Once in a while, though, we find ourselves in a spot like Abraham, having to make the “more right” choice.  We have to let go of something we kind of love to remain obedient to God’s big plan for our lives.  In these moments, may we recall God’s faithfulness in our lives and trust in Him to be faithful once again.


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Constant, Universal

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-21

Verse 17: What is the matter, Hagar?  Do not be afraid.

Today we find the culmination of the story of Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael.  It is the story of ignoring God’s promise and taking matters into ones own hands.  It is the story of jealousy, anger, abuse, betrayal, abandonment, and rescue.  Sarah has asserted herself and Abraham sends Hagar and ‘the boy’ off into the desert.  Isaac is Sarah’s son and the answer to God’s promise.  He will be the rightful heir.  It will be how the story unfolds as we read on in Genesis.

Yet a part of Abraham is conflicted, troubled.  Ishmael is his son, his flesh and blood.  Sending him off into the desert probably will not end well.  God speaks to Abraham and gives him assurances that ‘the son of your maidservant’ will also one day be the head of a nation.  ‘The boy’ will not die in the desert.  He has a future.  This reassurance allows Abraham to send them off into the desert, out and away from them forever.

This, however, is not quite the end of the story for Hagar.  Recall that she had been rescued by God once before.  Hagar would name God “the God who sees me”.  That God sees her again.  Just as she resigns herself to dying of thirst just yards from her son as he dies of thirst, God once again intervenes.  God calls out to her, “What is the matter, Hagar?  Do not be afraid”.  She too hears God’s promise for Ishmael and then God opens her eyes to see the water well that He has provided.  The passage ends with God’s continued care and provision through childhood and even into marriage.

Our God of love cares for those who are not ‘chosen’.  Hagar and Ishmael were part of Abraham and Sarah’s impatience and lack of trust in God.  On our human level, we would maybe want to see them off too.  They would remind us of our sin.  I am grateful that God loves all people, not just those who love or worship Him.  God’s love is constant; it is universal.  It is a love that Jesus would call us to follow and live out.  So when the Holy Spirit leads us to love the other, may this story remind us that God loves all of humanity so that we can go and do likewise.


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God Reality

Reading: Genesis 18:9-15 & 21:1-7

Verses 18:14 and 21:7 – Is anything too hard for the Lord?…. Yet I have born him a son in his old age.

Most of us live a very patterned life.  Sunday morning we go to church.  Wednesday night is youth group or a Bible study.  Monday through Friday morning we go to work.  Third Friday of the month is date night.  Football in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring.  Even within all of our routines are routines.  Worship is in the same order every Sunday.  First thing each morning is prayer time with a cup of coffee on the couch in the living room.

Within all of this we are called to live by faith.  But here too we like patterned or at least predictable.  Sure, we love for God to show up big on Sunday mornings in worship and we hope for His presence in our small group this Wednesday night.  We may even pray “your will be done” but hope it fits within our boxes.  We’d rather not have God show up unexpectedly as a coworker unburdens themselves at lunch.  We’d rather not have the Holy Spirit lead us to engage and love on that person we really don’t like so much.  All in all, even in our faith we prefer to stay well within our comfort zones.

Now we enter Abraham and Sarah’s story.  They are very old.  Her barrenness has caused much hurt and pain.  Years and years ago God promised Abraham descendant as numerous as the stars in the sky.  But it never came to be.  Now, as they near 100 years old, God again appears and says now is the time!  Sarah laughs.  You can’t blame her.  Her laugh is partly an expression of her deep sadness and her unrealized dream of a child.  It is also part honesty – really, a baby at 100?  Funny God, very funny.

God responds with a question: “Is anything too hard for the Lord”?  We all know the answer.  Nothing is impossible with God.  We know this to be true.  Yet most of the time we still prefer God in our boxes.  As Sarah becomes pregnant and begins to live into the reality of God, her mindset shifts.  She is experiencing the almost impossible through God’s power.  She is well outside her box.  You can picture her musing out loud as she asks the “who woulda thought” question.  Our passage closes with the reality, God’s reality: “Yet I have born him a son in his old age”.  Sarah fully understands now that nothing is impossible with God.  She knows this God reality.  May we live it each day as well.


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Willing and Obedient

Reading: Romans 4: 1-5 & 13-17

Today’s passage centers around the faith of Abraham.  He obediently followed God’s call and lead in his life multiple times.  For me, the ultimate test of Abraham’s faith came up on the mountain as God instructed him to sacrifice his son.  It was the only son born to a very aged Abraham and Sarah and God was leading him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice.  Abraham’s actions demonstrated great faith and trust in God, not only in this case, but over and over again.  Because of this belief in and trust in God, “it was credited to him as righteousness”.

Paul is wrestling in today’s text with the concept of faith based upon belief and grace versus faith based upon the Law and works.  Paul argues that it is our faith that makes us righteous and he holds Abraham up as the example.  Paul argues that the Law, or following all the rules for us today, cannot make us right before God.  His logic is that we cannot possibly keep all of the Law all of the time, therefore, the Law can only ultimately bring condemnation.  Paul puts forth the idea that only when we live by faith are we made righteous because only then does grace come into play.  Only when our salvation rests solely upon God’s free gift of grace are we able to claim the promise of eternal life.

As we consider this example, we must ask ourselves: do we live a life of faith or do we try to live a life of following the rules?  In our day to day lives, do we seek God’s will and guidance or do we live a faith that entails checking off the boxes as we do this or that?  Abraham demonstrated a faith that I find hard to fathom.  Could I lead my son up the mountain knowing that God was calling me to offer him up as a sacrifice when we got to the top?  It is a faith often outside of my understanding.  Yet it is precisely the type of faith that we are called to.  It is a faith that allows God to work through us instead of us working for God.  There is a huge difference between God leading my life and me leading my life.

Lord, help me to be more open to your leading, to your guidance, to your ways.  Make me a willing and obedient servant,  work through me, great Jehovah!


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Like AbrahamĀ 

Reading: Hebrews 11: 8-16

Too often we are deaf to God’s voice.  Like with Abraham, God is seeking to bless us and to do great things in our lives.  Throughout our day God seeks to connect to us, to draw us into relationship, to allow us to experience the presence of the Spirit in our life.  Too often we miss these chances.

Most of us have had significant encounters with God.  Maybe they were during a retreat or when we were at camp.  Maybe they were in a deep valley where our sense of God’s presence became very real at the low point of a trial or struggle.  Maybe it was during a special worship service or when we were on a mission project.  At certain times we are particularly open to hearing God’s voice or experiencing God in our midst.  But God desires this to be our frequent experience throughout our day.

The ‘God moments’ we have experienced are powerful and meaningful.  So this leads us to seek out why we do not have these times more often in our day to day living.  In Abraham’s story we find some clues.  First, he was open to hearing God.  At times God’s voice will boom into our lives.  But Abraham had his ear ever tuned to God and had his spirit focused on God.  We too can do this by being intentional in inviting God into our daily lives and by being cognizant of the opportunities God places in our lives.  These may come in the wise words of a friend, in the face of the one in need we encounter on the sidewalk, or in the still small voice of the Holy Spirit whispering into our heart.  Second, when Abraham felt God’s presence or heard the voice, he listened and was honest.  If he did not understand or felt doubt or fear, he was honest with God about these things.  God did not walk away, but responded.  Through faith Abraham heard and obeyed God and was credited as righteous.

Life can consume us.  Life can swirl around us.  The noise and busyness can obscure God’s voice and the encounters sent our way.  When we allow these things to occur, our relationship with God suffers.  Our soul is poorer for having missed out.  Our faith is not as strong as it could have been had we experienced God’s presence.  We, like Abraham, can hear God’s voice often.  We, like Abraham, can become attuned to that voice, lifting it above the daily hum.  The more we hear the voice, the better we listen. And we, like Abraham, can and will experience God’s presence and blessings when we slow down and focus on our faith.  May we learn to be like Abraham so that we can receive the promises, blessings, and power of God in our lives, daily and often.