pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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One True God

Reading: Exodus 32: 1-6

Verse One: When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming…

Over and over and over again, God has provided for and protected the Israelites.  Whether it was opposing armies or food or water or which way to go, God has been there.  Moses has been their leader through it all.  He has led by example and has always been faithful to the Lord God.

As we grow and mature in our faith, we come to trust in God and His presence and protection.  Our experiences when God had been there over and over builds our trust in Him and we come to believe that God will be there again and again.  But this can be such a fragile balance.  Something happens and doubt or fear or anxiety creeps in.  We turn to something other than God to curb our doubt…  we ignore what is going on… we cope in some unhealthy way.

We can relate to the Israelites’ choice in our passage today.  Moses has been gone a long time.  A LONG time.  They fear going into the presence of God.  They look up and see the “thick darkness” that Moses disappeared into.  We too can feel that our lives have slipped into such a place.  We can feel as if God were absent during these times.  But God is always present.  Like the Israelites, it is we who turn away.

In Moses’ absence, the people turn to Aaron.  He is #2 in command.  Aaron is a little less steady, a little less assured, a little less connected to God.  He wants to be a pleaser.  He fashions a golden calf to soothe the people’s fears and doubts.  The people willingly worship this idol – they are glad to be rid of their feelings of discomfort.  Our inner self can relate well.  Like Aaron, our inner self is willing to take over, to just do something to solve or at least alleviate our situation.  Like the people, our inner self is willing to do whatever to not feel those bad feelings.  We turn to other or self instead of turning to God and trusting in Him.

In our lives, when the storm clouds rise or when worry or doubt or… well up, may we turn to the only One who can save and protect – our One true God.  May we trust in God alone.

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Present

Reading: Exodus 14: 19-31

Verse 31: When the people saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people put their trust in Him.

In today’s passage the Israelites experience the final detachment from Pharaoh and his army.  Fear and doubt has again suddenly consumed the Israelites.  They even uttered to Moses, “It would have been better for us to serve in Egypt than to die in the desert” (Exodus 14:12).  Moses told them to stand firm and see the deliverance of the Lord.  Trust – trust in God.

God does indeed deliver Israel!  The angel and pillar of cloud form a protective barrier and God parts the sea.  The Israelites cross over on dry land but when the Egyptians follow God stalls them out and the waters return.  Verse 21 records, “Not one of them survived”.  What the people saw as a huge situation that quickly led to doubt and fear, God saw as an opportunity to deliver His people.  God intervened on their behalf to save His chosen people, whom He dearly loves.

God had led them out of slavery and had even blessed their exit.  He had guided them to this point, yet fear and doubt rose up quickly.  God’s mighty act of deliverance in the Passover was still very fresh in their minds, yet they quickly abandoned their faith.  We too can be much like the Israelites.  We can walk in close connection with God for days and days or even for years and something arises that makes us question or doubt and our faith almost evaporates.  The doubt or fear or anxiety or whatever quickly dominates our thoughts.  And then God still steps in and begins to work in our situation and delivers us too.  We look back and wonder why we ever questioned, why we doubted, why we didn’t just continue to rely on God.

The Israelites are delivered!  It was a powerful experience of God’s might.  Verse 31 tells us, “When the people saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people put their trust in Him”.  This too is an experience like the Passover, one they will tell over and over down through the generations.  Our experiences with God delivering us can be such moments as well.  May we also remember when God was present and acted in our lives, so we can retell and retell the story so that our faith and trust grows and grows.  God is ever present in our lives.  May we live into this more and more each day.


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Pray, Trust, Know

Reading: Matthew 14: 22-25

Verse 25: Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.

After feeding the 5,000, Jesus sends the disciples off across the lake.  They were a crew that liked to stay with Jesus.  We do not have very many examples where Jesus creates separation from the disciples.  But in today’s passage, Jesus “made” them get in the boat and head across the lake.  Our passage reveals three reasons Jesus did this and they are lessons for us as well.

The first is Jesus’ desire for solitude.  After dismissing the crowd, Jesus goes up the mountain to pray.  Jesus often found space and alone time to talk with God.  It is one of the best models He gives us and one we should seek to practice often.

The second is Jesus’ desire for the disciples to trust Him.  We do not know if Jesus foresaw the storm but we do know the last time they were out on this lake they feared for their lives.  They have a recent bad experience with this lake and a storm.  It was when Jesus awoke and calmed the storm that they felt safe again.  Now they head out without Jesus.  They must trust in His continued care even though He is not physically present with them.  At times, so must we.

The third is to demonstrate Jesus’ absolute power over everything.  In the middle of the night, as the boat is buffeted by wind and waves, “Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake”.  As the storm goes on, the disciples’ fears must have escalated.  Memories of almost sinking and now being without Jesus must have created some tension in the boat.  Jesus finishes praying and He returns to the disciples.  To see Jesus walking on the water must have helped solidify their belief in Jesus as the Son of God.  Just as God is, so too is Jesus omnipotent.  Knowing that Jesus is truly Lord of all brings us great comfort and reassurances as we journey through life.  To pray often and to trust always and to know Jesus Christ as Lord of all, these are the building blocks of our faith.


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Reason to Praise

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-11 and 45b

Verse Four: Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.

The Psalm begins with encouragement to give our thanks to God and to sing our praises to Him.  In singing our praises, the psalmist instructs us to “tell of all His wonderful acts”.  For the Israelites, God had acted in mighty and dramatic ways.  As a people, they have many touchstone moments when God has actively intervened.  In most cases, these are positive experiences that are remembered and celebrated.  Sometimes these are national events like the Exodus story and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  Sometimes they are personal stories – like the story of David and Goliath.  These moments all recall God’s love for His chosen people and their response is to praise and worship God.

On occasion they are stories of correction and sometimes of consequences for poor choices or ungodly living.  Noah and the flood and the periods of occupation and exile are key reminders of what happens when the people stray from God and His love.  Yet each of these stories had a silver lining because in the end the people return to a God who continues to love them anyway.  This realization also leads to the praise and worship of God.

As we fast forward to 2017, we are also the people of God.  As we look back over the last 10, 20, or more years of our own faith journeys we too can see the God we love at work in our story of faith.  We too can “tell of all His wonderful acts”.  There are moments when God has moved and we have been led to our own promised land or when we have slayed our own Goliaths.  Our faith has grown in these times.  And there are our times of wandering in the dessert and times when Satan’s temptations did lead to sin.  In these times, God never gave up or abandoned us. We too remained loved and cherished by God.  We found redemption and came back into the great love of God.  God’s love always remains constant.  What a reason to praise!  All of these experiences, both the good and the bad, remind us to always “Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always”.


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Remember

Reading: Genesis 28: 16-19a

Verse 18: Jacob took the stone… and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it.

During the night, Jacob has an amazing encounter with God.  When he wakes up the next morning, he reflects back on this encounter.  His first thought is of surprise – he did not expect God to be in this place.  It was simply where Jacob stopped because it was getting dark out.  As he lay his head down on his rock, sleep was all he expected.  Jacob’s comment, “I was not aware” reveals his surprise.  On the one hand, we think God is everywhere all the time.  But on the other hand, it surprises us when God shows up in a big and unexpected way at a random place.

Once Jacob realized that God was very present, he shifts for a moment to fear.  The text reads “he was afraid” so it is not a healthy fear or a reverence for God.  If God were to speak to me in an audible, direct way, true fear would also be part of my reaction.  When our omnipresent God becomes direct and personal, one reaction would be fear.  God is talking to me?  Gulp.

Jacob quickly moves past fear and into celebration.  He says aloud, “How awesome is this place”!  Here God has chosen Jacob as being worthy of direct conversation.  Jacob is excited that God spoke to him here.  It is a place he always wants to remember, so “Jacob took the stone… and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it”.  It will always be a place of remembrance for Jacob.  It is where God spoke to him.  He builds an altar, using the rock that was his pillow, and he consecrates it with oil.  The altar will also help others to know and remember.

When we have significant personal encounters with God, how do we remember them?  At a meaningful and powerful remembrance of baptism service, I was given a small stone.  I carry it daily in my pocket as a reminder of when God drew especially close to me.  In your next powerful encounter with God, seek a physical way to remember the experience.  It will be a tangible reminder that will lead you to rejoice and give thanks for God’s hand at work in your life.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Genesis 25: 19-34

Verses 22 and 23: The babies jostled each other within her… two nations are in your womb.

In our passage from Genesis 25, there is a lot going on.  Isaac gets married but Rebekah is barren.  Isaac prays about this and she becomes pregnant.  Turns out Rebekah is carrying twins, which fight a lot in the womb.  Two very distinct boys are born and each parent develops a favorite.  Verses 22 and 23 speak of this: “The babies jostled each other within her… two nations are in your womb”.  This would be an ongoing relationship for Jacob and Esau.  In the end, the younger ‘buys’ the older’s birth rite with a bowl of stew because the older was hungry.

In the early part of our passage, Isaac turns to God in prayer for the solution to a problem.  Isaac has experienced God’s faithfulness in his own past.  He himself was an answer to a similar prayer by his father.  Isaac also experienced God’s answer to a problem personally.  First, it was he who was laid on the altar to be a sacrifice to God.  But in response to Abraham’s faithfulness, God provided a different solution.  Second, in needing a wife for his son, Abraham trusted his servant, who also trusted God fully.  The solution to this was Rebekah.  So when Isaac goes to God, he expects God to work.  Like Isaac, we too have experiences with God working in our lives.  So, like Isaac, may we pray believing God will answer.

Between Esau and Jacob, the unlikely one comes to have the inheritance.  This is the opposite of how it should be.  As a general rule, the Israelite people would be upset with this story on principle.  But they love this story because clearly God is at work on behalf of His chosen people.  In it they see their story.  In many ways, this is a common story.  God often chooses the unlikely, the least, the outcast, the underdog.  Over much of their history the people of Israel have been the little guy, the weak nation, the underdog.  Even for the New Testament, Jesus came from the small town, from insignificant parents.  Paul was the greatest enemy of the new church yet came to be its greatest champion.  God chooses the unlikely, the unexpected, the unknown.

When taken together, these two elements of the story bring us hope and promise.  In times of honest and genuine prayer, we know that God can and will answer.  He is faithful and this brings us hope.  In terms of our lives as followers of Jesus Christ, we know that God can and will use anyone.  Even you and me.  This is God’s promise.  This day, may our prayers seeks to live into these two elements – hope and promise – as we love and serve the Lord today.


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Your Will

Reading: Genesis 24: 42-49

Verse 42: O Lord… if you will, please Grant success on the journey to which I have come.

In today’s passage, Abraham’s servant recounts what happened at the well.  In doing so he is trying to persuade them to allow Rebekah to go and become Isaac’s wife.  In a way, it is a very strange request.  This stranger shows up and wants to take your daughter or sister off to a far away land.  But as the story unfolds, two things become apparent to Bethuel and Laban.  First, this man has been sent by Abraham.  Lava’s father is Abraham’s brother.  This is family!  Second, God is clearly at work in this process.  Through earnest prayer and deep trust in God’s guidance, the servant has been led to the well and now to their home.  God’s presence flows throughout the recounting of the story.

Sometimes we too can experience God’s presence in the midst of our unfolding lives.  For me it is most often becomes apparent after the fact.  I look back on some event or experience and I can see how God led me this way or orchestrated that to happen.  In these cases it is reassuring that God was present and guided me.  But once in a while we realize that God’s hand is active right in the midst of an event or experience.  We have a sense that God is actively there.  It is almost as if we were being washed along by the current.  We are there, but only sort of.  We are acting on behalf of God and He is fully in control of us and of the situation.

In our story today, the faithful servant invites God’s guidance and direction and really triggers God’s active hand.  He earnestly wants God to lead and guide him.  He is boldly praying a prayer I sometimes only half pray.  When the faithful servant prays the “let your will be done” prayer, there is no ‘but’ or any other condition or stipulation.  It is simply here I am Lord, let’s go!  This day, may I live more fully into the example set by this faithful servant of God.  This day may your will be done O Lord.