pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faith Formation

Reading: 2nd Samuel 2: 18-20 & 26

Verse 26: “The boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

After being dedicated to God, young Samuel continued to grow both physically and spiritually. Hannah would make him new priestly garments every year and would bring them to him at the time of the yearly sacrifice in the temple. Our passage tells us that “the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

As I think about Samuel’s upbringing I think about how we raise our children – both in our nuclear families and in our church families. Just as Samuel was dedicated to God at birth, so too do people of faith dedicate their young children to God. In some faith traditions we baptize our infants, marking them as a member of the family of faith and pledging to raise them in the faith. In other faith traditions, infants are dedicated or consecrated with the same marking and pledge to raise them in the faith. In both cases the congregation has a role to play. The congregation pledges to do all they can to help raise the child in the faith.

As soon as they are able to we begin to bring our children to Sunday school or perhaps to a Wednesday night faith formation class. They learn the stories of the Bible and begin to apply its teachings to their lives and decisions. At some point we hope our children grow out of the faith of their parents and into a faith of their own. In some churches baptism marks this point and in others confirmation does.

As we look at Samuel’s life and at other examples we find in scripture, we see that the plan that God has for all children is to be raised in the faith. May we be attentive to all of our children, ever aware of our roles as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, mentors, teachers, pastors… to be a part of their faith formation, helping them to always “grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be faithful in leading and guiding my children and all of the children that come under my care, helping each to know you more and to draw closer to you. May I ever do these things with both my words and my actions. Amen.


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Faithful

Reading: 1 Samuel 2: 1-8

Verse 2: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no one like our God”.

Today we hear Hannah’s response to having a son. Years of suffering are over as she gives birth to Samuel. Hannah then raised Samuel until he was weaned and then she kept her promise to God. She gives Samuel to Eli, dedicating Samuel’s life to the Lord. Then, in grateful response to God, she offers up the prayer that we find today in our passage.

The prayer begins with Hannah rejoicing in the Lord because “in the Lord my horn is lifted high”. She has found strength in God and delights in the deliverance that she has found. She is no longer barren. She is no longer on the outside looking in. She has given Elkanah a son.

Hannah now knows joy instead of sorrow. She knows that God has been with her throughout. Yes, she spent years in shame but she was not alone. Yes, she spent year after year praying for a son that just never came, but in the end God was faithful. In verse 2 she rejoices: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no one like our God”. Only God could answer her prayer, only God could give her a son. Yes, there is no one like our God.

A verse later Hannah prays, “The Lord is a God who knows, and by Him deeds are weighed”. Hannah kept her focus on God and on living well. She did not stoop to the provocation by Peninnah. She remained confident in God. God heard her cry for a son and He blessed her with Samuel. We too can rejoice with God when we are faithful, when we walk the narrow path of Jesus Christ. May we trust as Hannah trusted, day by day, walking faithfully so that we too can rejoice in our God, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for Hannah’s witness of steadfast faith and perseverance with you. Thank you for your faithfulness to her and to me. Praise God! Amen.


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On the Throne

Reading: 1 Samuel 8: 4-20

Verse Seven: And the Lord told him… “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

The Israelites come to Samuel with a request: give us a king. The people want a king to lead them. A king rallies the troops and goes out in battle before the army. A king can negotiate with the nations around them. The people say, “then we will be like other nations”. But this is not God’s plan. This was not God’s intent for the chosen people.

Samuel senses right away that their request is a bad idea. Their request displeased Samuel. But God says to him, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”. Yes, Samuel is God’s voice as the prophet, but it is ultimately God that they are rejecting as their leader. The Israelites are creating a system that we ourselves know is difficult to follow. One cannot serve two masters. One cannot chose both God and the world.

Samuel gives the people a litany of ways that a king will use his power to take their sons and daughters, their crops and livestock, and even some of them as slaves. The people do not heed the warning. They simply say again, ‘give us a king – we want to be like all the other nations around us’.

We too can sense the danger in this line of thinking. We question the logic. But how often do we choose other ‘kings’ over our relationship with the one true King? The primary king we often choose is self, placing ourselves on the throne of our heart. When we do do we soon are like the Israelites, focusing on the other things of the world in pretty short order: power, possessions, status, recognition, popularity… We top it off by justifying it, saying we’re just like all the other people around us. This too is a rejection of God. But God will never force or coerce us into loving or obeying. God is a true King.

When we are tempted to follow anyone or anything other than God, may we remember the cost of that choice. May we also remember the awesome place we find ourselves when we keep God on the throne of our hearts.


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Trust

Reading: 1 Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 17: “What was it He said to you?  Do not hide it from me”.

No one likes bad news.  No one likes to hear bad news.  No one likes to be the bearer of bad news.  We can all relate to what unfolds in today’s scripture.  For Samuel, he is young and inexperienced with hearing from God.  The bad news pertains to his mentor, who is old and in failing health.  For Eli, the first news is unspoken: the torch has been passed.  God will now speak through another.  Eli mush have known that God spoke something to Samuel and because Samuel did not come right away to share the news, that the news must not have been good news.

Both Samuel and Eli could have sat on the bad news.  Both could have waited it out – maybe God could bring a new word.  Eli is old and failing, but he remains faithful to God, in spite of his failure to deal with his sons.  Eli calls Samuel and begins with, “Samuel, my son”.  I can envision Eli putting his arm lovingly around Samuel and looking deeply into his eyes as he says these words.  Eli then encourages Samuel to share, saying, “What was it He said to you?  Do not hide it from me”.  Samuel tells Eli all that God had said.  As a witness to his faith, Eli acknowledges that this will be done according to God’s good will.

What can we learn from this passage?  The first lesson comes from Eli – help the bearer of bad news to know that it is OK to share the news that they have been entrusted with.  Also from Eli we can see the example of receiving bad news knowing that God is and will be present in and through it.  The third lesson we learn comes from Samuel – trust in God for the strength and courage to share what He has given us to share.  In all of this we are called to learn from Romans 8:14: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.  He loves us and will care for us.

Our God is just and loving and true.  We can trust into all that God has for us and for our lives.  May it be so.  Amen.


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Speak

Reading: 1 Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse One: “In those days, the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions”.

As Eli aged the word of the Lord was not often heard.  Eli had chosen to ignore the immoral actions of his sons in the temple, thereby allowing them to continue to sin against God.  Ultimately God will not forget – there will be a consequence to pay for their actions.  I wonder if this is how God looks at us and at our world from time to time.  As a whole, Christianity is not the voice that rises up against obvious wrongs or injustices.  Does God think we too often sit silent when we should speak?

It can be difficult to speak out, especially when it seems to go against the norm or the popular or accepted thought of the day.  Even within our communities of faith, it can be difficult to hold one another accountable without seeming like we are being judgmental.  But if we are open to it and seek to hear what God is saying to us, like Samuel, we too can receive guidance and instruction from the Lord.

All it takes for God to speak is one receptive ear.  Our passage today tells us, “In those days, the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions”.  Eli had turned a deaf ear to the messages about his sons.  So God turned to Samuel.  But Samuel was young and Eli was still seen as the prophet of God.  It took a few times, but Eli did realize that God was calling out to Samuel.  Eli must have realized that this signaled a changing of the guard as well.  Perhaps this is why Eli pushes Samuel to tell him what God revealed to him.  Eli appears to know that the bad news pertains to him and his household.

How receptive are we to the voice of God in our lives?  Do we create time and space for His voice to be heard?  Do we try and discern if God is speaking into our life or into a situation in our life or in our world?  God desires to be active and involved in our lives.  May we be receptive to our God and His word.  Like Samuel, may we too say, “Speak, for your servant is listening”.


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Beneath the Surface

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 6-7

Verse 7: Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Today’s passage fits our world to a tee.  Modern society gloms onto trends and rising numbers and shiny images like never before.  Relationships across real life and social media platforms are a hundred thousand friends wide and as shallow as the teardrop that never falls.  As a whole, we prefer to stay up on the surface level because it is less commitment and there is less risk of being hurt or having to get involved.

Samuel illustrates this today.  He sees the oldest son, Eliab, and is impressed.  Must have been tall and handsome and well-built.  Must have looked pretty kingly.  Samuel thinks Eliab is the one.  But then God delivers the famous line: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.  Son after son passed by.  There is the definite implication made that we too should look past appearances, past the surface level, and get down into what really is important, to the core of the person: to their heart.

Of course, this is difficult.  I think this is so because it costs us our most precious commodity: time.  It is so much easier to just take a glance, to make a quick judgment or decision, and to move on to the next choice, the next option, the next person, the next sound bite.

But if we look at our story today and if we look at all of Jesus’ interactions in the Gospels, nothing is quick and easy. God did not settle for Eliab or even any of the other six sons who were present.  Jesus did not settle for a quick yes or no answer so that He could move on to the next need or so that He could give the next parable.  God invested time and waited for David to arrive – the one who had a heart for God.  Jesus took the time to see each person for who they were, to really understand the need they brought, and to patiently offer them all that He could offer.

In our busy lives it is a challenge to slow down, to look beneath the surface, to invest in each other.  In our faith, we are called to live in community, to love one another deeply (warts and all), and to walk alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ through the good and the bad. To do so, we must live beneath the surface.  May we delve deep this day.


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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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By Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11: 29-40

“By faith” they walked through a sea, by faith the walks of a mighty city simply fell down.  By faith the giant was slain, by faith three hundred routed the thousands.  By faith touching the hem of a garment brought healing, by faith a man walked on water.  By faith the people of God have done things that would have been impossible otherwise.  Each and every time someone trusted fully in what God was calling them to and the miraculous occurred.

These stories are not stories of someone getting a wild idea and then asking God to make it happen.  Each is the story of how God spoke into the heart of a faithful follower.  Each is the story of a person hearing or sensing the voice or nudge of God and being willing to trust enough in God to lead them to respond by faith.  One can only assume there are thousands upon thousands who heard or felt God leading them as well but instead ignored it or refused the call.  We know this because we each are one.

Each of us that have heard or felt God leading us to do or say or be something are not without faith because we hesitated or were fearful or doubted.  We are human.  Each of us have also had experiences where we did step out by faith, where we did trust in where God was leading us.  In these cases lived were affected and maybe some were changed.  Perhaps our life was one that was changed because we followed God’s lead.

Just as all those who have come before learned and trusted and came to walk with God, we too are learning and building trust and growing by faith in our walk with God.  Just as those such as Moses, Joshua, David, Samuel, Rahab, Stephen, Peter, Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., and many more lived by faith to positively affect our faith and our world, we too can have a mighty impact for the kingdom of God.  May we be willing and trusting servants to answer the call of God and to step by faith to do God’s will.


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Hope … in a Child

Hannah’s prayer is answered and she gives birth to a son.  After weaning him, Samuel is given to Eli the priest to fulfill her pledge to God: “as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.”  For the end to long years of shame and feelings of inadequacy and out of thanks for God answering her prayers, Samuel is given as a gift to the Lord.

Following these events Hannah offers up a moving prayer to the Lord.  One might expect it to be thanking God for a child or seeking blessings upon his life.  But it is not.  One can read Hannah’s experience into the prayer, but it is much more about God and who God is for us all.  It speaks of no rock like our God.  It reminds us that He raises the faithful up.  It tells us that God raises up the poor and needy to seats of honor.  It warns of what God will bring to those who think they are high and mighty.  The prayer flows with God’s love, grace, mercy, justice, and equality.  The prayer is quite upside down compared to the society of Hannah’s day – and to our’s today as well.

Yet today we still have hope in a child who was born to us, who descended from heaven’s riches and glory to dwell among us and to live a poor and simple life here on earth.  In Jesus we are taught that love, grace, mercy, justice, and equality are what matters and that we are to live our lives sharing these with others.  In Christ we learn that none of thee can be earned but that they are freely given so that we too can freely give them away to others.  Through His promise and by His example, may we do so today.

Scripture reference: 1 Samuel 2: 1-10


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Can You Hear Me?

In 1st Samuel 3 the Lord God called out to Samuel three times.  Finally Eli realized that it was God calling out to Samuel and he instructed Samuel to lay down and respond to God the next time He called out.  The young Samuel did not discern that it was God’s voice that he was hearing.

In our day and age, when there is so much noise all around us, it too can be hard to discern the voice of God when He calls out to us.  At times it is so easy to hit the snooze button, to plop down in front of the television, to read a magazine instead.  On other occasions it is easier to cross over to the other side of the street, to simply look away, or to make some excuse.

There is a reason though that God most often speaks in a still, small voice.  It is so that we have to be paying attention to hear and so that we have to make it our choice to respond.  God is a god of love.  In love, there is no forcing the issue.  There is only that still, small voice calling out to us.  Sometimes it is even hidden in the eyes of one in need or in the words of a friend.  Sometimes it is of the Spirit.  In all cases we must be listening and we must reply as Samuel did: “Speak Lord, you servant is listening.”

Scripture reference: 1 Samuel 3: 1-9