pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Power from on High

Reading: Luke 24: 44-53

Verse 51: While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven.

Just prior to today’s passage, the two who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus return and tell the disciples about their encounter with the risen Lord.  In the midst of the conversation that follows, Jesus appears to the disciples.  He begins by saying, “Peace be with you”.  Surprisingly, they were “startled and frightened” so Jesus shows them His hands and feet.  To reassure them He says, “It is I!” but there is still doubt.  So Jesus takes a piece of fish and eats it in their presence.  It is as if Jesus we’re saying, ‘See, I am real’.  This is where today’s passage picks up.

Jesus then goes on to explain all that is written about Him in “the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms”.  Just as He had with the Emmaus pair, Jesus did this to open their minds so they could fully understand and know who and what He was and to help them understand where He was going now.  He again promises them “power from on high” – the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Jesus then leads them out near Bethany, offers them one last blessing, and is taken up into heaven.  We can only assume that this is one of the things that Jesus had just explained as He taught them and opened their minds.  The disciples worship Jesus right then and there and then return to the city with great joy.  They go to the temple and continue to lift their praises to God.  The disciples know that Jesus has ascended and that they have been promised this “power from on high”.  No wonder they are filled with joy!

In the 2000+ years since, Jesus has continued to sit at the right hand of the Father.  He continues to intercede on our behalf.  The promise of “power from on high” remains in effect.  When a believer accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit comes and lives within us as a daily presence of Jesus.  It is also our reason to be filled with joy.  No matter what life brings, we do not walk alone.  His presence is always with us.  May we too offer our praises to God this day!


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Living and Eternal Hope

Reading: 1 Peter 1: 3-9

Verses 4 and 5: In His great mercy, God has given us new birth into a living hope… and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.

This short passage has so much power.  Peter opens by praising God and then jumps right in to explain why.  In verses four and five Peter writes, “In His great mercy, God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you”.  Our hope is a hope not only for eternal life, but also for a living hope in our life here on earth.  Yes, the gift of the resurrection is a wonderful promise.  But our time with God in the eternal will be a time of no more tears, no more pain, …  If there was ever a time when we needed hope, it is in the realities of this world.

After reassuring us of God’s power shielding us, Peter does acknowledge that this life will bring testing.  He writes that we may have to “suffer griefs in all kinds of trials”.  Yes, even though we have faith and even though God shields our gift of salvation, yes, this life will bring trials.  Just as the rain falls on the just and the unjust, so too do trials and “life” come to all peoples.  But there is a great difference in the affect of the trails.  Those without faith get through; they endure until the trial passes and emotions dull.  The believer, on the other hand, has a trusted and loving companion to walk beside us.  God brings us peace and comfort and strength in the trial.  God walks with us and in the end leads us to rejoice as our faith has grown, has been refined; this leads us to praise the God who is faithful and is a real presence in our time of need.

Our experience with God deepens our faith.  As Peter writes, “though you have not seen Him, you love Him”.  It is true that we do not physically see God, but we do tangibly experience God and His presence in Spirit.  This is what fills us with an “inexpressible and glorious joy”.  Peter returns to the eternal as this section draws to a close.  He reminds us that we are receiving the salvation of our souls as well.  For both of these gifts – presence now and hope in the life to come – we shout thanks be to God!!  To Him be all the glory and power, both now and forevermore.