pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hard Pressed

Reading: Exodus 1: 8-14

Verse 12: But the more they were oppressed, the more they flourished.

Life has been good for the Israelites.  God had sent Joseph ahead many years before as a slave.  God blessed Joseph’s life.  He did not live as a typical slave.  God blessed him over and over and eventually he rose to second in command under Pharaoh.  Famine had struck the land but Joseph had prepared the country well.  Joseph’s family came to Egypt looking for food.  Because of his position, Joseph was able to bring his whole family to the region of Goshen, where they grew and prospered.  God blessed the Israelites and they grew in number, in livestock, …

Over time Joseph and his generation died off.  God continued to bless the Israelites and they continued to grow in number.  Enter a new king.  This new Pharaoh did not know Joseph or their history with the Israelites.  But he knew his country needed the labor of the Israelites.  They had become the backbone of the economy.  Then he came to fear them.  He saw how numerous they were and he feared them.  He feared they would one day be numerous enough to leave so he began to deal very harshly with them.  He inflicts oppression and hard labor on the Israelites.  “But the more they were oppressed, the more they flourished”.  Even in the midst of the hard times, God continues to bless His people.

At times we too find ourselves hard pressed and we may even feel like we are being oppressed.  At times our good life becomes difficult.  In these times, do we cling to God or do we question God?  Do we hold fast to our faith and trust our difficulties to the Lord?  The Word tells us that God is always at work for the good of those who love Him.  Where in our lives do we need to live into this today?  When we find ourselves hard pressed, may the God of the peace that passes all understanding lead and guide us through.


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Trust and Call

Reading: Romans 10: 5-13

Verse Ten: It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Rules or faith?  Myself or God?  Know or trust?  Living by faith can be a challenge to each of us.  Paul begins today’s passage with a quote from Moses about the Law.  Moses is basically saying that if one follows the Law, one is righteous for living according to God’s rules.  But the Law is something outside of us.  It is a list of do’s and don’ts.  The Law focuses on what I can (and cannot) do and is very black and white.  It says things like do not murder and keep the Sabbath holy.  In this sense, the Law is easy to understand.

To live by faith is another matter.  Paul quotes Deuteronomy and writes, “The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart”.  Faith in Jesus Christ is very much an internal thing.  Faith is about a relationship that shifts the focus from us to God.  This relationship begins with confessing “Jesus is Lord”.  This confession places Jesus instead of self on the throne of our heart.  It becomes less and less about what we can or cannot do (the Law again) and more and more about what Jesus is doing in and through us.

The Law is about knowing God in our head.  Faith is about having God in our heart.  The short distance between head and heart can be a very long journey.  Sitting in a pew each Sunday is following the rule written in your head.  Worshipping and praising God each week is Jesus living out of your heart.  It is a world of difference to have God in your head versus having Jesus in your heart.  Paul writes, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”.  Faith resides in the heart.  It leads us on that journey to confession of our sins and receiving mercy and forgiveness.  Through our relationship with Jesus Christ we are made holy and pure once again.

Paul concludes today’s passage with two more Old Testament quotes.  First, from Isaiah: “Anyone who trusts Him will never be put to shame”.  Faith involves trust.  In faith, Jesus has our backs.  Second, from Joel: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.  It’s not ‘could be’ or ‘might’ but WILL BE saved.  Trust and call on the Lord.  He is all we need.  Jesus is our all in all.  Thanks be to God.


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Anything

Reading: Romans 9: 1-5

Verse Three: For I could wish that myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers.

Paul writes of the sorrow and anguish he feels because his fellow Jews, his brothers, have rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  Paul initially rejected Jesus too.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection Paul, then known as Saul, was one of the greatest persecutors of the new Christian faith.  But after his face-to-face with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was converted and became one of the greatest evangelists ever.  His conversion brought him great joy and peace in his life.

Yet he would willingly give all of this up for his people, the Israelites, who refuse to accept Jesus as Lord.  He writes, “For I could wish that myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers”.  Paul is ready to give up the best thing that ever happened to him so that the Jewish people could come to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It pains him greatly that the chosen people reject Jesus.

On our own faith journeys we too will encounter people who reject Jesus.  Many will choose to walk away from the faith of their childhood.  We may have family members and know close friends who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.  For many a parent it is a very painful experience to have a child choose to live without Jesus in their life.  For those we have a deep personal relationship with, it is indeed painful to think of one we love missing out on the joy and peace and mercy and forgiveness and all else we have, nevermind the eternal consequences.

In this many of us are like Paul.  We would give anything, even our own faith, to see ‘that’ person or persons accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  We pray for them, we try and share our faith with them, we do all we can.  Lord God, may our work be fruitful in bringing those we love into relationship with you.


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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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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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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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Harvest Fields

Reading: Matthew 9: 35-38

Verse 38: Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.

Jesus spent most of His three years of formal ministry being out and amongst the people.  Our opening line reminds us how Jesus went through all the towns and villages teaching, preaching, and healing.  He spent time in the synagogues, but He also spent a great deal of His time outside the walls of the church building.  When we think about all of the stories of Jesus that we find in the Gospels, not too many actually take place in the formal church setting.  This is our first lesson today.

As Jesus spent time with people, as He saw the crowds, “He had compassion” for the people.  Jesus saw the people and their need for a Savior.  Matthew writes that they were “harassed and helpless”.  We too are called to the last, the least, and the broken.  These are the harrassed and helpless of our day.  We are called to also offer compassion as we feed, clothe, visit…  We are called to offer what we can to those in need.  But moreso we are called to share our faith.  Verse 36 ends with, “like sheep without a shepherd”.  To not know Jesus is to wander through life, bouncing from one thing to another in our search for contentment and satisfaction.  Only through knowing Jesus Christ do we find peace and hope in this life.  Jesus had compassion on the people, loved on them, and gave them all He had to offer as He served among them.  This is our second lesson.

Our passage ends with, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field”.  Jesus is encouraging the disciples to go out into the harvest fields.  In the very next verse, 10:1, Jesus sends the 12 out to do what He has been doing: to teach, preach, and heal.  When I think about my community, I see harvest fields.  There are many who do not know the love and grace that Jesus Christ offers.  They have never heard the good news.  Relatively speaking, yes the workers are few.  My prayer is to be sent out into the harvest fields.  My hope is to share the faith I profess with others today.  May it be so.