pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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By Faith Alone

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

Verse 13: “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise… but through the righteousness that comes by faith”.

As Paul and the rest of the earliest church were sorting out just how Jewish one must first be to become a follower of Jesus Christ, he penned these words that we read today. Before becoming an apostle, Paul was known as Saul. In that phase of his life he was a self-proclaimed Jew among Jews. He was a very devout Pharisee who knew and followed the letter of the law. As the early church grew and began to add Gentile believers, a huge debate arose over just how much of the Jewish faith must be followed to become a Christian.

In our reading for today Paul points to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Paul chooses him for two reasons. First, he is one of the pillars of Judaism. His faith is one of the models. God declares Abram righteous because of his faith. As we’ve been reading, God called and in obedient faith, Abram went where God led. He stepped out and followed God. Second, at the time there was no law. It had not been given yet. Paul is saying that one can be saved by faith apart from the law. Paul, known as the apostle to the Gentiles, is not in favor of applying Jewish laws to the Christian faith. Paul himself became a believer when he met the risen Lord and then entered into a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. For Paul it had nothing to do with the law. In the next chapters Paul will go on to argue this point further. Martin Luther will pick up these texts many hundreds of years later as he works out his “justification by faith alone” doctrine that will rock the church.

Even though the New Testament clearly spells out that one is saved by faith alone we can often feel like we must do good works or follow some set of prescribed steps to be saved. God does not have a giant balance scale that one day weighs out our good versus bad. We know from the scriptures that as soon as we confess and give our sins to God, they are wiped away – they are no more. Nothing is being stacked up on the “bad” side of some mythical scale. Yes, our faith will lead us to do good things. That is how we live out the love of God within us. It is the model Jesus set for us. As we follow Christ, living out our faith, may his ‘why’ become our ‘why’. Jesus loved others because the love of God within him overflowed into the lives of others. May we do the same. May the sharing of God’s love be our grateful response to our God who saves.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your unconditional love and grace. It is certainly not deserved but you pour it out upon me anyway. I definitely cannot earn yet it is still there in unending abundance. It is an amazing love, an amazing grace. Thank you. Amen.


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Actions of Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11: 8-16

Verse 8: “By faith Abraham, when called to go… obeyed and went”.

Within chapter eleven, the “Hall of Fame” of faith, we find many examples of those who demonstrated great faith. Our section today is focused on Abraham. As a younger man, while still known as Abram, he moved with his father to Haran. They settled there and began to establish themselves. Then, in Genesis 12, Abram receives a call from God to move to a new and unknown land. God promises Abram that he will become “a great nation” and then, a handful of chapters later, God promises him that he will have descendants as numerous as the sand on the shore who will one day be given the Promised Land. In faith Abraham responded to God’s initial call and moved his family, slaves, livestock… to this unknown land. They were strangers and foreigners living in tents. God too was faithful. The promises and covenants came and were fulfilled. Abraham and Sarah had many children and they became established in the new land.

We too will hear God’s call. We too will wrestle with some of the calls – especially those that lead us away from the familiar and comfortable. For most of us, the call is not to pack up all we own and to follow God’s lead to a new home. For a few it is their call. Most of us experience a call that is much more local. Our calls are to help the family down the street, to befriend that lonely soul, to take the time to listen and to be present to the one that is hurting, to serve at church as a teacher or on a team or committee, to tutor that student struggling in school… God calls us in many different ways and to a wide variety of service. No matter the call, our willingness to step out and to follow where God leads demonstrates our faith. To listen and then to obey, to trust and then to step out in faith – these are the actions of faith. May these be our actions today and throughout our journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, each day you offer opportunities for me to step out and to step up. Give me a willing and obedient heart. Amen.


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Righteousness

Reading: Romans 4: 17-25

Verse Twenty: “He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God”.

Paul connects back to the Old Testament today and recounts the faith of Abraham. Paul refers to the story in Genesis 17 where God promises to make Abraham and Sarah into a great nation. Despite being ninety-nine and ninety years old, they “in hope believed” what God promised. Paul writes that Abraham “faced the fact that his body was good as dead” and chose the possibility of God. Yes, he did question and doubt a bit – the Genesis passage tells us they laughed at first – but in the end, “He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God”. Abraham chose to be “fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He promised”. We know from hindsight that Abraham does go on to be the father of many nations.

Within this story we too can have hope for our faith. We see that our God keeps His promise even if we question or doubt or laugh or take a little time to rachet up our faith. This is because the promise is based on God’s power and love, not on ours. Abraham shows faith in spite of the seemingly impossible of his context. Deep down, he knew that anything was possible with God. We also trust into this fact. Abraham chose to believe and chose to live into this promise from God. Even though we may wrestle and question and doubt now and then, we too are called to choose to believe. We are not perfect, God is. In the end, we must come to trust into our relationship with God and to believe that God can do anything in our lives as well.

For Paul, righteousness comes through Jesus Christ. Paul writes, “for all who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord”, God will credit us as righteous. Jesus not only died for our sins but was also “raised to life for our justification”. For us, this means that Jesus makes us right before God. He washes away our sin and makes us holy and pure before God. When we falter, when we stumble, Jesus is there to pick us up and to return us to a place of right standing before God.

In Deuteronomy God said, “I will never leave or forsake you”. This too is a promise. It is a no matter what promise. This promise is carried out today through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Through the Spirit, Jesus remains ever by our side. Like the Father, the Son keeps the promise for us. Thanks be to God for the power and presence of Jesus, our righteousness.


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Listen, Remember

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3a

Verse One: “He summoned the elders, leaders, judges, … “This is what the Lord says..”

Joshua gathers up the leaders and officials of the twelve tribes of Israel – all the men in charge of the people.  In this farewell chapter Joshua wants to make clear to them the correct path forward.  Just as it has been for Joshua and for Moses before him, so too must God remain at the center of the lives of these leaders and those they lead.  So Joshua does not begin with his own words of wisdom, but with, “This is what the Lord says…”

God begins by reminding them of the story of Abraham.  It is a story they all surely know well but it is important to return and recall the stories often.  The story begins with “long ago” and connects to one of the most important people in their common history.  As God mentions Abraham, his wife Sarah certainly also comes to mind.  Both heard God’s promise that even at 100 they would have a baby.  The covenant would then be given: Abraham will be the father of a great nation.  Both Abraham and Sarah heard and lived out God’s promise in the covenant.  For the elders, leaders, judges, … the message is clear – listen to God and live out His covenant.

There is also a second message in our passage.  God reminds the people that they have worshiped foreign gods.  God connects not doing so with the promise of a new land.  For Abraham it was Canaan; for them it is the Promised Land.  In this warning against worshiping foreign gods, those gathered would recall the story of the golden calf and its consequences.  They would also recall the commandments brought down the mountain by Moses that told them to have no other gods or idols.  This message is also clear – love the Lord your God and Him alone.

These are both good reminders for us as well.  We live into the new covenant established in Christ Jesus, clinging to its promises as we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  May it be so each and every day.


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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.