pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Stories

Readings: Exodus 32: 1-6 and Psalm 106: 19-23

Key Verses:

Exodus 32:6 – He made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf.

Psalm 106:20 – They exchanged their Glory for the image of a bull.

In both passages, we have the story of the people departing from God to worship an idol made of gold.  True, Moses has been gone up the mountain a long time.  But the people did not worship Moses.  While Moses is up on the mountain, clearly the presence of God remains on the mountain.  The presence of God is right there in plain sight when the people and Aaron make another “god” to worship.

This is not a pretty story about what happened in the life of the chosen people and their relationship with God.  Yet it is recounted and retold over and over by these people and generations to follow.  Why?  For the same reason they tell and tell about the Passover, the parting of the sea, the fall of Jericho, the defeat of Goliath…  We remember and retell good and bad stories for the same reason: to remind us of God’s love and grace.  In the stories where we (corporate) are not faithful or where we have sinned, they remind us of God’s love in spite if our fleshy weakness.  In the stories where God provides or guides or redeems… we are reminded of God’s constant love and care for each of us.

There is great value in the telling and retelling of these stories where God is active and present in the lives of the people, always bringing comfort, guidance, peace, and, of course, love and grace.  But these stories are not just found in the pages of the Bible.  They are also found in the day to day living of our lives.  We each have stories to tell of when God rescued us, when God forgave us, when God redeemed us, when God loved us…  These too are powerful stories of God’s continuing presence and activity in the lives of His people.  They are stories we need to hear over and over.  They are also stories others need to hear.  Our faith is communal.  Our faith is a shared faith.  Today, who will we share our story with?

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Remember and Retell

Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4 and 12-16

Verse Four: We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.

Today’s Psalm is about remembering and retelling.  It is about remembering the times of God’s presence and activity in the past and retelling it to others.  The Israelites are very good at doing this.  It keeps reminding them over and over of both God’s love and their status as the chosen people of God.  Remembering and retelling keeps them intimately connected to God and His love.

As Christians, we also are called to remember and retell.  We are first called to tell the good news of Jesus Christ.  The Great Commission charges all believers to tell of Jesus to all nations.  In doing do we help people to connect to the Savior.  In telling the story we also remind ourselves of how Jesus saves, loves, forgives, … each of us.  This personal story is the second calling we have to remember and retell.

Each of us has our own personal faith story.  It is the story of how Jesus Christ makes a difference in our lives.  It is the story of how Jesus is better – better than any other god we can chase after, be it money or power or some other religion.  It is the story of how Jesus walks with us through the joys and the trials, lifting us up at times and carrying us at others.  It is a deeply personal story because Jesus is a deeply personal Savior.  And it is a story that others need to hear.  We remember and retell our faith story so that others can see how the good news of Jesus Christ can be good news to them as well.

So what is your faith story?  Why Jesus?  Just as the Israelites pledged to “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord”, we too are called to follow the same.  Jesus put it this way: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  May we go and tell all we meet of our faith in the only one who can save.


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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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Present

Reading: Exodus 14: 19-31

Verse 31: When the people saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people put their trust in Him.

In today’s passage the Israelites experience the final detachment from Pharaoh and his army.  Fear and doubt has again suddenly consumed the Israelites.  They even uttered to Moses, “It would have been better for us to serve in Egypt than to die in the desert” (Exodus 14:12).  Moses told them to stand firm and see the deliverance of the Lord.  Trust – trust in God.

God does indeed deliver Israel!  The angel and pillar of cloud form a protective barrier and God parts the sea.  The Israelites cross over on dry land but when the Egyptians follow God stalls them out and the waters return.  Verse 21 records, “Not one of them survived”.  What the people saw as a huge situation that quickly led to doubt and fear, God saw as an opportunity to deliver His people.  God intervened on their behalf to save His chosen people, whom He dearly loves.

God had led them out of slavery and had even blessed their exit.  He had guided them to this point, yet fear and doubt rose up quickly.  God’s mighty act of deliverance in the Passover was still very fresh in their minds, yet they quickly abandoned their faith.  We too can be much like the Israelites.  We can walk in close connection with God for days and days or even for years and something arises that makes us question or doubt and our faith almost evaporates.  The doubt or fear or anxiety or whatever quickly dominates our thoughts.  And then God still steps in and begins to work in our situation and delivers us too.  We look back and wonder why we ever questioned, why we doubted, why we didn’t just continue to rely on God.

The Israelites are delivered!  It was a powerful experience of God’s might.  Verse 31 tells us, “When the people saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people put their trust in Him”.  This too is an experience like the Passover, one they will tell over and over down through the generations.  Our experiences with God delivering us can be such moments as well.  May we also remember when God was present and acted in our lives, so we can retell and retell the story so that our faith and trust grows and grows.  God is ever present in our lives.  May we live into this more and more each day.


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A Special and Chosen People

Reading: Exodus 12: 11-14

Verse 13: The blood will be a sign… I will pass over you.

The Hebrew people are the chosen people.  They stand in a special place because of their relationship with God.  As God is preparing to set them free from their long years of bondage in Egypt, there must have been some anticipation building up amongst the people.  God instructs them to mark their doors with blood and says, “The blood will be a sign… I will pass over you”.  Others will not be passed over.  Death will come to their houses.  The Hebrews are indeed a special and chosen people.  God also instructs them to eat a special meal in a specific way, all the while ready to go.  As a child we experience this same thing when Mom or Dad excitedly yells,”Everyone, get your shoes and coats on!”  We would know something special was coming our way.

It has been many years since the first Passover.  Yet generation after generation has celebrated the Passover meal each and every year.  The words have been the same almost forever; they are memorized at the earliest of ages.  The youngest one present always asks the same question about the special night.  The story and the words and the meal are passed on generation after generation so that the Israelite people can remember.  The Passover celebration tells them over and over that they are a special and chosen people who stand always in God’s presence.

When Jesus instituted the sacrament of communion, He too used similar words.  He wanted us to always remember that that we are a special and chosen people.  In the Gospel of Luke we read these words: “do this in remembrance of me”.  Each time we gather and celebrate Holy Communion we remember what Jesus did for each of us.  We tell the story over and over so that we remember and so that we are reminded that Jesus made His sacrifice for each of us.  Yet He also did it for all of us – to forgive the sins of the world.  What great love!  We are indeed a special and chosen people, dearly loved by our Lord and King.  May all we do and say this day bring Jesus all the glory and honor, reflecting a love that draws others into this special and chosen people, the church.


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The Blood

Reading: Exodus 12: 1-11

Verse Seven: Take some of the blood and put it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses…

After many years of slavery in Egypt, God is about to free His chosen people.  He has heard their cries and has sent Moses to free them.  Nine plagues have hardened Pharaoh’s heart but the tenth will set them free.  It will become a touchstone moment for the Israelites.  This event is so important that God resets the calendar to zero to begin the next stage in the history of His people.  It is an event that continues to be celebrated yearly in Jewish homes.

God gives specific instructions for this night – select a lamb or goat without defect and care for it for four days in your home.  Slaughter it at twilight and roast the meat over a fire.  Do not boil it or eat it raw.  Eat or burn all of it.  Eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread.  Eat it in haste – with your cloak tucked in and sandals on your feet and staff in hand.  Be ready when Pharaoh relents.  And the blood.  “Take some of the blood and put it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses”.  Take the blood from the sacrifice and use it to mark yourself as mine, says God.  Celebrate the meal exactly this way.  Trust in God and the plan He has laid out.  Trust and follow the plan.  Know that God is with you and will go with you wherever you will go.  Every year Jews celebrate the Passover, remember God’s promises, and look forward to continuing to live in His promises.

The same imagery and message come on the cross.  Remember the blood of the Lamb.  Remember how Jesus bled for you and for me.  Celebrate the blood that washes away our sin and marks us as holy and pure in God’s sight.  And remember the promises: the cross is because I love you.  I will be with you always.  I will never leave you or forsake you.  I love you.  Thanks be to God for His everlasting promises of love and grace.  We are and always will be His.  Thanks be to 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”.