pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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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.