pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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All in All

Reading: Philippians 3: 10-14

Verse 12: I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

There is great power in today’s passage.  There is great hope.  There is great promise.  There is great encouragement.  Pail is fully rooted in Christ and in His love.  He has given his all for the gospel and is willing to suffer and even give his life if that will advance the gospel and bring glory to God.  Paul opens today with a clarion call for all believers: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection”.  Like Paul, we also want to know these two things.  We want to know Christ for this earthly life so that we can love and serve others as Jesus did.  We want to know the power of His resurrection for this life and the life to come.  In this life, the power of Jesus’ resurrection brings us victory over sin.  Jesus’ resurrection power defeats the guilt and shame and chains of sin so that we can be made holy and pure in this life.  It is a power we call on again and again.  Jesus’ resurrection power also looks to the future – His resurrection power enables us to defeat death and to live eternally with Jesus in heaven.

Knowing all of this is what allowed Paul to be sold out for Jesus and the gospel.  It is what allows us to have the faith and the courage to live as sold out, all in Christians.  If we believe in the power of Jesus Christ and His resurrection, we too can live as Paul did: willing to do anything and willing to face anything to advance the kingdom here on earth.  This is what Paul is talking about when he writes, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.  Christ took hold of Paul to give him a hope, a love, a promise, a future.  Paul did not take hold of all this and sit on it to keep ut for himself.  He gave his all and eventually his life so others would gain it too.

Paul concludes today with these words: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.  Hear these words – straining ahead, pressing on, the prize, called, in Christ Jesus.  Paul’s life reflected the fact that Jesus Christ was his all in all.  May our lives and faith reflect this as well, all for God’s glory and the building of His kingdom here on earth.

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Present and Active

Reading: Psalm 114

Verse Three: The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back.

This song of praise celebrates God’s mighty acts during the exodus from Egypt.  This journey to the Promised Land is the fulfillment of a promise God made to His chosen people.  For those who were there, it was an amazing experience.  For all the generations after, that is brought back to life every time they sing this Psalm.  These events are just more witness to God’s love and care for the Israelites.

There are three God moments remembered in the Psalm.  The first is when they were hard-pressed.  As the Egyptian army closed in, “the sea looked and fled”.  The Israelites were saved.  The second is when they faced the Jordan River, ready to enter the Promised Land.  Even though at flood stage, “the Jordan turned back” and the people once again crossed over on dry land.  The third came when the people were put hard to the test.  Water was scarce in the desert and the people were almost dying of thirst.  Moses struck the rock with his staff and water poured forth.  God turned the “hard rock into springs of water”.  Once again God saved the people.

Over the course of their history God would act again and again on behalf of the people.  Some were mighty acts like at Jericho when the walls came tumbling down and others were relatively small – the quiet call of Gideon or the simple act of Rahab.  To this day God continues to be present and active in the world and in our lives.  Some are ‘small’ things like the miracle of birth.  Others are ‘bigger’ – someone’s cancer is suddenly gone.  Even in the midst of tragedies and natural disasters, God is present in powerful ways.  Faith-based groups and agencies will have huge impacts in Texas and Florida as they come in to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, helping to restore people’s lives and their hope.  God continues to love and care not only for His people but to love and care for all people.  May we do the same today as we celebrate and participate in God’s continuing involvement and presence in the world.


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Look to the Lord

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6 and 16-22 and 45

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

Psalm 105 is a summary of Israel’s early history.  The opening lines are a call to give thanks and praise to God for all He has done for the people.  The story told in Psalm 105 is not necessarily pretty all the time.  There were times of slavery and abuse and hardship.  There was famine and hunger.  Normally we do like stories with some conflict in them because they keep our attention.  But why would the psalmist tell a story that had abuse and slavery and hunger in it?

Yes, it is the truth and, yes, it helps the Israelite people remember their history. But even more importantly, it reminds them of God’s presence.  For the Israelites, the chosen people, these stories represent the times God stepped forward and acted on their behalf – ending the famine, parting the sea, performing the miracles.  These stories remind the people of God’s love and care for them and they provide hope and promise for the future.

We have similar experiences with God in our lives.  We have events and situations where there was conflict or hardship or trial.  In these times we also have experienced God’s presence as He provided a way or brought us that peace beyond understanding or gave us the strength and courage to slay our giant.  Sometimes, though, we are hesitant to tell these stories because they show our imperfections or our struggles or our failures.  We do not always like to share these aspects of who we are.  Yet we need to share our stories of what God has done in our lives.  Just as the Exodus stories gave the Israelites hope and reminded them of God’s presence and promises, so too can our stories of when God came near give hope and promise to those we meet.  It is through the sharing of these stories and the impact they had on our faith and lives that we can help others to understand and practice the words of the psalmist: “Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always”.


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Bethel Moments

Reading: Genesis 28: 10-19

Verse 15: I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.

Jacob has had a long day of travel.  As darkness sets is, he grabs a rock for a pillow and lays down on the ground.  He is happy for his spartan bed.  Perhaps you too have been there.  You have driven a long ways that day and are happy to finally have a place to lay your head for the night.  You’ve gone on a little further just to get a little closer to your destination.  Jacob is just the opposite: he has gone on a lot further to get away from Esau.  He had just stolen his father Isaac’s blessing from Esau and he is fleeing to Haran for protection.

In our passage today, we soon find that God is blessing this whole adventure.  In the middle of the night, Jacob awakens to angels ascending and descending a set of stairs, coming and going from the earth.  Then God speaks to Jacob from the top of the stairs to heaven.  God gives Jacob this great promise: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go”.  What reassurance!  God also adds that He will give Jacob and his descendants this land to live in.  God closes this exchange with another promise: “I will not leave you until I have done what I promised”.  In the morning Jacob awakens and builds a pillar and names this place ‘Bethel’ – house of God.

Like Jacob, we too have our Bethel moments.  We too have come to the place of weariness and have laid down our heads, happy for the day to draw to a close.  We have carried our burdens or worries or anxieties with us and are content to just find a little rest.  And then God has shown up.  Sometimes we have prayed and sought God out and other times He has just shown up.  Sometimes it is God and sometimes it is one sent by God.  God may not remove all of our burdens… but He (or His agent) shoulders some of the load and holds our hand as we begin to move forward.  There is no question that God has been present and we have been blessed by His care and love.  This day may we take the opportunity to thank God for our Bethel moments and to rejoice in His presence in our lives.


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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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Hope and Compassion

Reading: Genesis 24: 58-67

Verse 67: So she became his wife and he loved her and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Abraham’s act of fatherly love culminates in a successful wedding.  He has managed to do what all good parents try to do – bring joy to their children in times of sadness.  Isaac is in mourning over the loss of his mother Sarah.  Their relationship was especially close and her passing has created a large void in his life.  Abraham was simply trying to remove this pain from Isaac’s life.

When we find ourselves in a time of suffering and sadness, we too want to be surrounded by those we love.  We find comfort and compassion and, through our loved ones, our sorrows are alleviated.  We seek out those who will love on us and turn our thoughts to brighter and happier things.  This is the role Abraham plays for Isaac.  The last line in today’s passage reads, “So she became his wife and he loved her and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death”.

As Rebekah responds to the call to go, her family sends her with a blessing.  These words – “may you increase to thousands and thousands” – remind us of God’s covenant with Abraham to have descendants as numerous as the sands on the seashore.  It is just one more showing of God’s hand orchestrating and blessing this whole situation.  It is evidence of God’s love for and concern for His people and their future.

God has the same love and concern for you and I and for our future.  Just as God compassionately cares for Abraham and Isaac and Rebekah, so too does He care for us.  All we need to do is enter into a relationship with God to know His love and care and compassion.  All we need to do to experience a future of promise is to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  God’s love and compassion work to draw us in.  They call out to us.  May we, like Rebekah, step into God’s love and live into the hope and promise that God offers to all who call on His name.


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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.