pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Opened Wide

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verse Seven: “You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir”.

Today’s text is a great reminder of the depth of God’s love for us.  Prior to the coming of Jesus, there was one relatively small group of people who were blessed to be in the family of God.  A small band of twelve tribes were the “chosen people”.  But then, “when the time had fully come, God sent His Son”.  It was then that the door began to open for you and me.

In God’s wisdom the time had come to establish a new covenant.  It was not quite the extensive makeover that came with Noah and the flood, but what God had in store was a pretty radical shift.  But even the sin that had come into the world through Adam survived that flood.  Humanity remained under the law of sin and death.  So God sent His Son to “redeem those under the law”.  That is you and me and all of humanity.  God sent Jesus to a pretty big crowd of people.

As Jesus ministered to those He met, a couple of things became clear.  First, Jesus cared for and loved all people.  It did not matter who or what you are or were, Jesus loved you just as you came.  There were no hoops to jump through, no boxes to check off, no barriers to keep people out.  Second, Jesus was a humble servant who was obedient to God alone.  From washing feet, to welcoming sinners, to touching the unclean, to healing the hurt and broken and damaged, to going to the cross – Jesus offered all He could.  Why did Jesus do all of this?  To make a way for you and me, so that we “might receive the full rights of sons”.

Full rights means we are in.  We are part of God’s family and part of His plan of salvation.  As a child of God, we are loved and cared for, protected and provided for.  As a child of God, we are privy to the Holy Spirit and to the gift of eternal life.  Before Jesus, we would just be another Gentile on the outside looking in.  But with Jesus, we are now a part of the family.  Jesus was such an amazing gift to the world.  Jesus is such an amazing gift to you and me.

Paul concludes our passage today with these words: “You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir”.  Through His blood we have been set free from our slavery to sin and death.  Through His love we have been made children of God.  The door has been opened Wide so that all may enter in.  Praise be to God!  Thank you Jesus!

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Humble Servants

Reading: Joshua 3: 7-17

Verse Ten: This is how you will know the living God is among you…

As Moses was about to die, he passed leadership to Joshua.  He laid hands on him as a symbolic gesture and prayed over him as a way to bless him.  As Joshua began his leadership of the nation of Israel, God comes to him and speaks these words: “Today I will exult you in all the eyes of Israel”.  God gives Joshua instructions and he passes them along to the people.  It is a miracle that is similar to but exceeds the parting of the sea.  This day the river that is at flood stage will stop flowing so that the people can cross over safely.  It is an impressive beginning to Joshua’s time of leadership and a great witness to God’s continuing presence and provision for Israel.

Flash forward to today.  What miracle will you be blessed by this day?  Or how will God intercede or intervene or guide or provide for you this day?  Too often we think miracles or God’s hand at work are things of the past – relegated to the pages of the Bible or reserved for some exceptionally deserving person.  But not so.  Just as God used some pretty unlikely folks and even an unsavory character now and then, God continues to do so to this very day.  And He will again tomorrow.  Three weeks ago God nudged me to go visit a friend.  Exactly two weeks ago as I drove to see her God gave me the words to say that brought some healing to her broken heart.  Yes, God can use us all.

Verse ten today reads, “This is how you will know the living God is among you…”. Yes, God continues to be the living God that dwells in our midst!  Are we each sensitive to and attuned to the living God?  Are we expectant that God will come and intercede or provide or guide?  Are we willing to respond to the touch of the Holy Spirit and the whisper of the divine?  When we say yes to these questions, then we will know that the living God is among us.

Holy and awesome God, may we each have ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts to feel, and hands and feet to respond to the ways You lead and guide each of us today.  May we be humble servant of the living God.  Amen.


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Trust and Live It

Reading: Exodus 16: 2-15

Verse Eight: You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.

Complaining is something we can slip into pretty easily.  When the grass looks a little greener over there, when we did not quite get our way, when we have to wait for something, when we feel we have been treated unfairly, …  There are many reasons we can find to complain.  And sometimes we too may blame God or question God at a minimum.

The Israelites are out in the desert and they are starving.  The quick food they took with them when they hastily exited Egypt is gone and the desert does not provide much to eat.  The people come and complain to Moses and Aaron – if only we’d “died by the Lord’s hand back in Egypt”.  Die in the Passover plagues rather than be free?  But we are hungry!  Oh to be back in Egypt where “we sat around pots if meat and ate all we wanted”.  Oh for the good old days!  The Israelites ‘long’ for death or at least slavery again.  We too can be pretty immature and a bit whiny in our complaints.

When one resorts to complaining, one usually needs to look within oneself to find a cause.  Sometimes we forget all of the blessings we have in our life and focus on that one thing instead.  Sometimes we simply forget to be grateful and skip right to discontent.  We dwell on envy and jealousy and want.  And sometimes we forget to trust God.  We forget all the times God did and we don’t believe God will ever provide again and the grumbling begins.

In our passage today, the people grumble to Moses and Aaron, but they are just the middle men.  Moses says to the people: “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord”.  It is true for them just as it is true for each of us at times.  We too can flout a sense of entitlement and can put on a pout when we do not get our way or when we feel like we are being treated unfairly.  But this is not the witness we get elsewhere in the Bible when we look at the faithful.  We see Jesus always looking to give, not to receive.  We see Paul being content in all circumstances, even when in want.  We see God providing for His people over and over and over again.  When we really take the time to reflect on our own lives, we see the same constant provision.  May we trust in His Word and His love and may we live it out in our lives this day!


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Say It Well

Reading: Psalm 105: 37-45

Verse 45: …that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws.

This last section of Psalm 105 recounts the exodus from Egypt.  The Israelites left Egypt “laden with silver and gold” and headed out into the desert with a cloud for shade in the day and a pillar of fire for light at night.  God provided for their physical needs with quail and manna and He brought water from a rock.  God led them into a land that other nations had toiled over and developed and built up.  God blessed the chosen people on their exit from slavery in Egypt right up to their entrance into the Promised Land.

It is good for a people to tell their story.  This Psalm that would have been sung in worship reminds the people of what God has done for them out of His great love for them.  We too sing songs that remind us of our faith story.  Whether it is a classic like “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Amazing Grace” or if it is a more modern song like “Trading My Sorrows” or “Come As You Are”, we sing songs of praise to remember His love and His actions in our bigger faith story.  We may know, for example, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins but songs that remind us also remind us of His great love for us.

To be reminded encourages us and strengthens our faith.  It helps us to grow in and to deepen our relationship with God.  It is why we hug and kiss our spouse and children each morning and night, saying “I love you” each time.  They know it but it sure does us good to say it and to hear it.  It is the same when we sing praises to the Lord.  God may know we love Him and we may know God loves us, but it sure does us good to sing it.

There is also a second benefit.  After listing how God gave, God brought, God provided, … the psalmist writes, “…that they might keep His precepts and observe His laws”.  This is also why we must sing of His mighty acts and of His love for us.  It reminds us to say “I love you” back with how we live our lives.  May we say it well today.


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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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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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Steps

Reading: Psalm 23: 1-2

Verse 2: He makes me like down in green pastures… He restores my soul.

David opens the Psalm by declaring God to be his shepherd.  Because of this, David knows he shall not be in want.  Above all else, he has learned that God provides for him.  Whether dealing with a bear while tending sheep or facing a giant on the battle field or avoiding the insane king, God has provided for way more than David’s basic needs.  But God has provided for them as well, so David has a deep and abiding trust in God.  It is a trust that had grown with experience and practice.  It is one we can enjoy too if we are willing to “let go and let God”.  But it is sort of a two-edged sword you see.  If we never trust God enough to face our giants, then we never truly understand just how great our God can be.  Deep and abiding trust requires us to take another step.

David goes on in verse two to another way that God cares for him and us: rest.  God knew since the beginning how important it was for us to rest.  God himself rested on the seventh day and made Sabbath rest one of the ten commandments.  It is a practice that is deeply ingrained in the lives of Orthodox Jews to this day.  David writes, “He makes me like down in green pastures… He restores my soul”.  David is so in tune with God that he feels God leads him to a place of rest.  David’s place is out in nature, the place of his youth.  The green pastures and quiet waters are calling and David finds restoration for his soul in this place.  It is a place that God invites us to as well.  It is a space that requires deep and abiding trust as well.  It requires that we trust God enough to rest.  This means that we trust God can and will take care of tomorrow – with all of it’s requisite work and worries.  This is also a “let go and let God” practice.  It is also a means of trusting all that we have and all that we are into God’s hands.  To trust in this way also requires another step – another step towards God and away from the world.

This day may we step a little further in our trust in God, entering deeper into His love.