pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Step Out

Reading: Matthew 14: 26-33

Verse 28: Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.

In the midst of a storm, Jesus comes to the disciples, walking across the water.  Already a bit on the edge from the storm, the disciples see Jesus coming and they think He is a ghost.  This terrifies them further and they cry out in fear.  Sometimes I find myself in a storm.  As Jesus draws near, at times it scares me too.  I sense Him drawing near and wonder what will be prune away or changed in me to keep me out of the storm the next time.

Jesus responds to the disciples’ cries and fears saying, “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not fear”.  It is a familiar line to me.  I can picture Jesus with a slight smile on His face as He says it.  This is what I picture as He comes to me in my storm.  The smile says, “This may hurt a bit but it’ll be good for you”.  Again those words: Take courage!  It is I.  Do not fear.  I have plans to prosper you, to bring you good.

Peter’s response is interesting.  Immediately he says, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water”.  He asks to step out into the rough water, out into the danger.  He doesn’t wait for Jesus to finish coming to the boat, but instead wants to meet Jesus someplace out there in the tumult.  For most of us it is an odd choice.  We like to hunker down where we are at and wait for Jesus to come to us.  Peter does not consider the risks – he just wants to be closer to Jesus sooner.  If only that we’re our default choice.  If only we would be so eager to step into the risky and unknown and unfamiliar just to come closer to Jesus sooner.  If only we sought Jesus as much as Peter did.  If only.

When we are willing to step out for Jesus, we too will hear those words echo: “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not fear”.  May we trust in the Lord and respond faithfully to His call: “Come”.


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Hold Tightly

Reading: Genesis 32: 22-31

Verse 24: Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.

God directs Jacob to return home.  He is being led to return to the family that he tricked and stole from.  This worries Jacob.  As he nears home, he sends all his family and all he owns across the stream and he remains alone on the far side.  The scene is set for some alone time with God.

At times we find ourselves in a similar situation.  We are returning to or going someplace that causes us some fear or worry or anxiety.  We may be the cause of it or it could be from things outside of us that are causing the uneasiness.  Yet we know we must go.  Here we too seek some guidance or direction or encouragement from God.  We want to know that we do not go alone.

“Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him till daybreak”.  As turmoil stirs around inside Jacob, a man comes and wrestles with him.  It could be an angel.  It could be a man sent by God.  It could be God.  Whatever the case, Jacob realizes that this is a powerful foe and this leads him to demand a blessing.  He has already sent quite a blessing across the stream – his wives and children, his large herds and flocks, and his many possessions.  Yet he demanded more.  God has blessed him and now he asks for more.
In our times of trial and stress, we who have also been blessed often go to God asking for more.  Sometimes God will allow us to do a bit of wrestling too.  God will allow us to sit in our feelings of uncertainty and fear because it leads us back to Him.  He wants to know if we too will hold on tightly.  Jacob does not give up in the wrestling match and he is rewarded.  He receives a new name – Israel – the one who struggled with God.  Jacob departs the scene knowing that God is with him.  It is now a hopeful future for Jacob.

At times we too will wrestle with God.  We too will struggle and ask the “why” questions.  In this story we see that God is faithful to those who hold tightly to Him, to those who remain steadfast.  May we ever hold tightly to our God, trusting in His blessings.


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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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Forever with Them

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 19: As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.

It has been quite a week for the disciples.  There was the big splash of the triumphal entry on what we call Palm Sunday.  It seemed as if everyone in Jerusalem was out there supporting Jesus.  But right after the parade Jesus again speaks of His coming death – but it oddly seems closer now.  Jesus teaches through the week and clashes with the Jewish authorities – seemed like a pretty ordinary week.  Until Thursday night.  They set up to celebrate the Passover and Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.  He speaks of them becoming like servants too.  Among other words, Jesus again promises them the Holy Spirit and explains some of what the ‘Counselor’ will do for them.  Then, in a whirlwind of activity, Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified.  Suddenly their world is turned upside down.  Their leader is gone and they fear for their lives.  Hope died on that cross.  They have seen the empty tomb and have heard Mary Magdalene tell of seeing the risen Lord.

But this night the disciples remain huddled together, hidden behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”.  Doubt and fear and grief and confusion had to be swirling in their heads.  And then Jesus comes to them.  He opens with, “Peace be with you”.  He shows them His hands and His side.  In mere seconds, the disciples’ mindset changes drastically.  Again Jesus offers them peace then says,  “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”.  More than one probably thought back to the cross and wondered about being sent out into the world.  Next Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into and into them.  In His presence, with His breathe covering them, they must have physically felt the Holy Spirit enter them.  Doubt and fear and… must have vanished in an instant.

These disciples will go out and spread the good news of Jesus Christ far and wide.  They will speak with power and authority.  All will give their lives for their faith.  The Holy Spirit allowed the disciples to live out their faith without any fear of this world and without any fear of death.  They knew that Jesus Christ was forever with them.  May we follow their example as we live out our faith today and every day.


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Resurrection Faith

Reading: Acts 2: 29-32

Verse 32: God has raised Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.

God had promised David that one from his line would rule forever.  In the world where kings come and go, where power struggles are a real threat, this promise required a great deal of faith to believe.  Even in David’s reign, there were several who tried to sieze power from him.  So to hold onto this promise too a great deal of faith.  David had such a faith.  He held onto his absolute trust in God.  Forever is a long time, but there was an unshakable trust that David had in God.

For Peter, his faith had been shaken.  He has just been restored from the denial of knowing Christ.  He has been anointed the “Rock” upon which the church will be built.  But Peter has had those days when doubt and fear has crept in, just as David had and just as we do.  No human being is immune to doubt and fear and anxiety and worry.  For Peter, in those days after Jesus died, there must have been huge doubts.  But the resurrection came and his doubts about Christ were washed away.  But after the resurrection, there must have been great fear… – he had denied the Lord three times.  And Jesus restores him from this too.  Peter was beginning to see through new eyes.  He was beginning to see with eyes full of hope and faith.  He realized that God had been at work all along.  This too is the faith that David lived within.  It is the faith we are called to live in too.

Just as David had seen the eternity of the Messiah, Peter now understood God’s will for all of creation: forgiveness of sin and life eternal.  These are God’s gifts​.  Through the cross, Jesus defeated the power of sin.  Through the grave, Jesus defeated the power of death.  God’s will is to offer these gifts to all who call on Christ as Lord and Savior.  Once we do this and place our hope and trust in Him, we too will understand what Peter knew.  Christ came to save the world and will come again to restore all of creation.  It is God’s gift to you and to me, to all of creation.  May we, like David and Peter, claim this gift, this inheritance, and begin to live out our resurrection faith each day.  Verse 32 reads, “God has raised Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact”.  May we live as witnesses today!


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God’s Plan

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 1-5

1 Samuel 16:4 – Samuel did what the Lord said.

As a prophet of God, at times Samuel has brought words that were tough for the person or people to hear.  The results of Samuel’s words are not often positive.  The Holy Spirit works much the same way in our lives.  When we sin the Spirit quickly convicts us and forces a change in us.  When the elders of Bethlehem see Samuel approaching, they are cautious and guarded.  They are straight forward in the conversation: “Do you come in peace?” is their opening line with Samuel.  ‘Yes and no’ would be the honest answer.

King Saul is not happy with Samuel.  Samuel has very recently told Saul that God has rejected him as king.  Initially, when God tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem, Samuel is fearful.  So too are the elders.  What might Samuel be doing in their town?  Will Saul punish them for having Samuel there?  Or worse?  At times we too are put to the test.  At times our faith leads us to follow God’s will into places and situations that bring up fear or doubt or that may have a cost to us.  Doing what is right or speaking the truth sometimes creates conflict or ruffles feathers.

God has a plan.  He answers Samuel’s fears and Samuel heads off to do God’s work.  Samuel voiced his concern to God and God responded.  This is what we are called to do as well.  God desires an open and honest relationship with us too.  So when we feel doubt or fear or lack of trust, we need to bring this to God.  When we are unsure of where to go or of how to proceed, we need to go to God in prayer, to seek God’s plan.  Like Samuel, God will lead us past our fear, our doubt, our concerns.  Like Samuel, we must call on God alone and we must fully rely on God’s plan, knowing that God is in control of all things and that God has good plans for us.

“Samuel did what the Lord said”.  May we follow Samuel’s example.


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The Struggle

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-3

Leading up to today’s story, the Israelites have had quite a relationship with God.  After hundreds of years in slavery, God hears their cries and delivers them from bondage.  In the process, they witness ten miracles that lead to their release.  The final miracle is so amazing that it becomes an annual festival that celebrates God’s saving act: Passover.  Then, just as all seems lost again, God parts the sea, the Israelites cross over, and the pursuing army is destroyed.  Shortly thereafter God provides manna each day and quickly follows that up with quail for meat.  The people have seen blessing after blessing after blessing.  In this way, many of our lives are like this.  God blesses us in so many ways.  We too can look back and see where God’s hand has been at work in our lives.  Maybe we too should have a rock-solid relationship with God, walking hand in hand all the time.

But if we delve a little deeper into the Exodus story, we see another side of the Israelites that we probably recognize in ourselves as well.  The Israelites liked the idea of freedom but grumbled to God when Pharaoh’s reaction was harsh. Then they tasted freedom, only to grumble about starving to death in the desert.  They next complain about water and God leads them to a spring.  They complain about food and long for Egypt and God provides.  The pattern is pretty consistent.  Instead of God’s miracles leading to deeper faith, the Israelites continue to show a lack of faith and trust time after time.

If we fast forward to today, the struggle continues.  Today the sense of community has largely been replaced by rugged individualism.  Instead of grumbling to one another, we simply put our heads down and try to forge a way forward.  We grip the wheel a little tighter.  And often as a last resort, we turn to God.  We look back on the people that God called ‘stiff-necked’ and wonder why they couldn’t trust God after all He brought them through.  Then we see a mirror and realize we are much the same.  We cling to control.  We too allow doubt and fear to creep in.  We too struggle to trust and to live by faith.

Acknowledging it is the first step.  Releasing control is next.  Lord God, help me to yield all to You.  Grow in me the trust that allows You to fully lead my life.  Please.