pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty 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. 


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Planner Extraordinaire

Reading: Acts 2: 1-21

God is a planner and schemer extraordinare.  The coming of the Holy Spirit came at a time and place that He chose.  A day or two earlier or later and the impact would have been vastly different.  And just like the doctor that can understand all the medical and physical events with his patient except for how the cancer is suddenly gone, we too must simply smile and chalk one up for God.

Thousands of years prior God had promised Abraham that His descendants would be as numerous as the stars.  Then hundreds of years later, once God’s people were settled into the Promised Land, He began Shavuot, a festival that would draw all faithful Jews from all over the known world to Jerusalem.  When God put these two events into motion, I believe He had already planned the day of Pentecost.

God clearly had a plan.  As those first disciples gathered and the Holy Spirit descended upon them, God also produced a wind loud enough to draw a large crowd.  Only by God’s divine hand would that crowd be a group of devout Jews from all over the world.  The Holy Spirit that had descended caused the disciples to speak the Word of God in each person’s native tongue.  Imagine the impact this had as each foreigner first picked up their language being spoken and then tuned in to hear the Word proclaimed!  Each one would have two amazing stories to tell: one of these simple Galileans speaking a language they did not know and, two, the story of the powerful Gospel.  3,000 believed and were baptized that day after Peter stood and preached the Gospel.  3,000 were ready to go back home, to carry the story of Jesus to the ends of the earth.  What a plan!

God has a plan for each of us as well.  May our eyes be open and our hearts willing to speak the words that one who crosses our path needs to hear today.  May we be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and may we faithfully speak the Words of Life that the Spirit brings to our lips!


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Listen to My Voice

Reading: John 10: 22-30

Ever since mankind has known God, it has been all about the relationship.  Adam and Eve walked in the Garden and talked with God.  Although His presence changed, God has continued to communicate with mankind.  Initially it was through prophets and angels.  Then God entered the world in the flesh.  Jesus lived, walked among, taught, and even performed some miracles.  In His earthly life Jesus revealed who and what God is.

With Abraham, God established a covenant with His chosen people.  Israel was to be God’s people and He was to be their God.  This covenant came with some guidelines.  Over time the Law  grew to be something cumbersome.  Yet the covenant relationship remains.  God’s chosen people, by and large, continue living in covenant relationship with Him.

In time though, it became necessary to establish a new covenant.  Jesus came to accomplish this.  He reminded God’s chosen people of parts of the old covenant: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love neighbor as self.  He added to the second: love as I have first loved you.  This was a different kind of love.  It was a radical kind of love.  In His love there are no outcasts, no outsiders, no strangers.  Jesus loved all.  He loves you and me.  Through His body and blood, He established a new covenant and offers the gift of eternal life.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”.  The new covenant is about relationship too.  It is about hearing Jesus say, ” love as I have first loved you”.  It is about Jesus knowing each of us as a follower.  May we ever hear His voice.  May we ever follow.