pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Presence

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 15: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet”.

Today there is an understanding that God is real and present to His people in several ways. In Moses’ time, God was definitely real and present to them, but there was a fear of God being too physically present. Moses became the people’s designated person to go and communicate with God. We see this unfolding in the first few verses of our passage today.

God next decides that what has been established with Moses is good. He will continue this pattern of raising up prophets to speak God’s word to the people. For many years this is the pattern, with varying degrees of success (or failure). When the people were concentrated in one place or area, a prophet called to speak God’s word could speak to the whole nation. But at times, such as when some were in exile, it was harder. Yet prophets often played a key role in the development, guiding, and realignment of the people’s faith. Prophets were most often used to call the people back to God and God’s ways.

Today we still have prophets but not quite in the Moses mold. God continues to speak through people and through things such as miracles and natural events. But today our prophets seem to speak to a more focused area or group of people. Perhaps the Pope is the closest to an Old Testament prophet as he speaks to the whole Roman Catholic faith. Today many pastors and teachers function as a prophet in the church or place that God has planted them.

We are also blessed with a personal connection to God. As Jesus departed this earth, He blessed His followers with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is like a built-in prophet as it reminds us of God and of God’s ways, and as it calls us back when we sin and wander. I am grateful for those who speak into my life and who help me along on my spiritual journey. I am also grateful for the personal attention that God gives me through the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life. It is a presence that all believers are blessed with. May God continue to lead and guide all believers in all we do and say and think. Thank God for His constant and personal presence in our lives.


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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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Hope

Reading: Luke 24: 13-21

Verse 21: We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

Two followers of Jesus are walking along the road to Emmaus.  The events of the last three days must have dominated the conversation.  They had passed through the dark days of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  They had sat through the ‘now what?’ of Saturday.  They have heard the women tell of an empty tomb and of angels saying Jesus is alive.  But no one has seen Jesus at this point in their minds.  It is just a story at this point and much of their minds are caught up in the events of the past few days.

Instead of appearing as Jesus to these men, his identity is hidden.  He invites them to share their story and emotions and recent experience with Him.  He invites them into sharing the hopes they had, the disappointment they felt, and the desire to believe again.  All of these things are part of life.  We go through them as well.  For the disciples and followers of Jesus, these things must have been swirling around in their heads.  In this little part of the road to Emmaus story, Jesus draws out of these two men all that they are feeling and what is in their hearts.

At times our trials and disappointments can ‘here’ Jesus from our eyes as well.  The grief or anger can blind us or be a barrier that gets in the way.  These parts of life that we’d rather avoid are unavoidable.  Life brings us all the good as well as all the bad.  Jesus desires to walk along through it all with us as well.  Jesus wants to be our constant.  Jesus wants to hear it all.  He wants to hear our joys and our sorrows, our dreams and our disappointments, our requests and our thanksgivings.  He wants our joyous choruses and our angry rants.  He wants it all because He wants all of us.

The men confided their ultimate hope in Jesus, saying, “We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel”.  Soon they would better understand all that has recently transpired and soon they would know that indeed their hope has been realized.  Their eyes would be opened and they would recognize their Lord and their Savior.  Jesus wants to be the same for each of us: Lord and Savior, ever present help and ever present peace.  Thank you Jesus!


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Love and God

Reading: Psalm 116:15

Verse 15: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.

Most translations of this verse use the word “precious”.  It is a unique word choice in an odd little verse stuck in the middle of a Psalm that otherwise rejoices over God’s presence to us and His hand at work in blessing our lives.  A better word might be “weighty” – as in, death is weighty.  This word better conveys how the death of His saints must feel to God.  After all, God gives us life – He breathes physical life into us at birth and then later God breathes the Holy Spirit into us when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  When God pours so much into us, then maybe death would be a little weighty for God.

This little line is also a good reminder for us.  Yes, God is always present to us.  Yes, God rescued us from our sins.  Yes, God loves us dearly.  All are reasons to rejoice.  But death is also a reality of life.  In a way, this line reminds us that we need to be aware that in the midst of our rejoicing there are always others mourning.  It calls us to be congnizant of and attentive to them.  It also tempers our joy with a dash of reality.

This little line also reminds us that God’s love never fails.  God’s love for us is always there.  We are His dear children, both in life and in death.  In turn, this reminds us to be steadfast in our love of God.  We certainly find it easy to love God in the joyous times when all seems blessed by God.  It can be harder to love God when we feel beset or when we are suffering.  But we are called to love God despite the bad too.  We are called to love God through the trials and suffering.  God does not love us more sometimes and less other times.  May our love of God reflect this as well.


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Constant

Reading: Psalm 118: 21-29

The passage for today opens with thanks for answered prayers and for the gift of salvation.  A couple of verses later the author writes, “This is the dsy the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”.  When we are in a personal relationship with the Lord, we know we are saved for eternity and our view of the world and life is much different than the view held by those living without God.

Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God is a constant presence to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  On good days we can joyously lift our praises to God.  The light and love of God easily flows out of us and into the lives of those around us.  We live with a constant sense of verse 27: “The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us”.  We daily enter his gates with praise.

Then we have times that are a struggle.  We feel as if nothing is going our way.  In these times we may not feel like joyfully singing praises, but we do have a definite sense that God is still near, always remaining present.  We know our salvation is still secure because nothing in the world can take that away.  It is a different way to walk through a trial.  Without God it is indeed a hard road to travel through the storms of life.

God’s constant presence throughout all of life, in both the good and the bad, is a gift worth sharing.  In verse 26 we are reminded that those who come in the name of the Lord are blessed.  God goes with us, blessing us as we go.  A bit later in the passage we read, “I will exalt you”.  In our day to day lives we exalt God by living like Jesus lived, loving others as a humble servant.  When we live this way, we live as a witness to the true cornerstone.  In this way others see the light too and begin to see a life for themselves is possible, one built upon the Rock.  Christ to all, Christ in all!


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Love Eternal

Reading: Luke 20: 27-38

It is odd that the Sadducees ask Jesus a question about relationships in heaven when they themselves do not believe in the resurrection.  They thought long and hard about how to ask a question with a hypothetical problem whose circumstances are based solidly in the Law of Moses.  The hypothetical location of this problem is heaven.  No one, including us, really knows exactly what heaven will be like.  The exception is, of course, Jesus.  He has been there in heaven so he can answer their ridiculous question from a position of authority.

I can picture Jesus’ smile turning to a grin as He begins to answer their question.  He begins by explaining that our earthly relationships will be secondary at best in heaven.  The only relationship that will matter in heaven, Jesus says in essence, is that we are the children of God.  In other words, the only relationship that will really matter in heaven will be our relationship with the Lord.  It will be true in the eternal but it is also true here in the temporal.  Relationships with spouses, family, friends, and so on makes life here much more pleasant and enjoyable.  But many here have these relationships but no relationship with God.  For these, their eternity will be much different than for those who claim a personal relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

Jesus explains to the Sadducees that to God we are all alive, whether living or dead.  This is clearly true now.  Jesus says it will also be true in heaven.  The constants are God’s love for us and our status as children of God.  Although we do not clearly know what we will be like in heaven, we do know that some representation of us will be with God if we have a personal relationship with Jesus while here on earth.  At least the part of us that has a relationship with God will remain alive with God in heaven.  To me, this is our spirit or soul.  But this is a guess at best.  What we do know is that God’s love never ends and that it remains the same here on earth as it will one day be in heaven.  For God’s unfailing love and eternal claim bonus ad children of God, we say thanks be to God.


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Constant and Steadfast

Readings: Psalm 126: 4-6 and Isaiah 43: 16-21

Both passages speak to God’s love and provision that allows us to walk through difficult times, holding onto our faith.  Both texts acknowledge that at times we will face difficulties, hardships, challenges.  Both writings remind us that just as God has been there for His people in past trials, He too will be our rock and light in the trials we face.

In times of trial it does indeed seem dark.  We await some sign of hope or the dawn of change that signals a beginning to the end of our trial.  If it is a prolonged trial, we come to points of wanting to shout “Why?” to God.  It is in these moments that we need to recall God’s work in our lives.  It is at these times that we need to draw upon the strength found in passages such as today’s readings.  When we remind ourselves of God’s unfailing and steadfast love, the darkness lessens as hope begins to grow again.

Each trial we go through is an experience in faith.  As we reflect on how God was present to us each time faced a tough situation, we will see how we were never alone and we will see God’s hand always at work.  These reflections allow our faith and trust in God to grow.  They bring us reassurances that He will be there in the next trial and in the next and in the next…  For His constant presence and steadfast love, we say thanks be to God!