pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Trust and Call

Reading: Romans 10: 5-13

Verse Ten: It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Rules or faith?  Myself or God?  Know or trust?  Living by faith can be a challenge to each of us.  Paul begins today’s passage with a quote from Moses about the Law.  Moses is basically saying that if one follows the Law, one is righteous for living according to God’s rules.  But the Law is something outside of us.  It is a list of do’s and don’ts.  The Law focuses on what I can (and cannot) do and is very black and white.  It says things like do not murder and keep the Sabbath holy.  In this sense, the Law is easy to understand.

To live by faith is another matter.  Paul quotes Deuteronomy and writes, “The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart”.  Faith in Jesus Christ is very much an internal thing.  Faith is about a relationship that shifts the focus from us to God.  This relationship begins with confessing “Jesus is Lord”.  This confession places Jesus instead of self on the throne of our heart.  It becomes less and less about what we can or cannot do (the Law again) and more and more about what Jesus is doing in and through us.

The Law is about knowing God in our head.  Faith is about having God in our heart.  The short distance between head and heart can be a very long journey.  Sitting in a pew each Sunday is following the rule written in your head.  Worshipping and praising God each week is Jesus living out of your heart.  It is a world of difference to have God in your head versus having Jesus in your heart.  Paul writes, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”.  Faith resides in the heart.  It leads us on that journey to confession of our sins and receiving mercy and forgiveness.  Through our relationship with Jesus Christ we are made holy and pure once again.

Paul concludes today’s passage with two more Old Testament quotes.  First, from Isaiah: “Anyone who trusts Him will never be put to shame”.  Faith involves trust.  In faith, Jesus has our backs.  Second, from Joel: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.  It’s not ‘could be’ or ‘might’ but WILL BE saved.  Trust and call on the Lord.  He is all we need.  Jesus is our all in all.  Thanks be to God.


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Step Out

Reading: Matthew 14: 26-33

Verse 28: Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.

In the midst of a storm, Jesus comes to the disciples, walking across the water.  Already a bit on the edge from the storm, the disciples see Jesus coming and they think He is a ghost.  This terrifies them further and they cry out in fear.  Sometimes I find myself in a storm.  As Jesus draws near, at times it scares me too.  I sense Him drawing near and wonder what will be prune away or changed in me to keep me out of the storm the next time.

Jesus responds to the disciples’ cries and fears saying, “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not fear”.  It is a familiar line to me.  I can picture Jesus with a slight smile on His face as He says it.  This is what I picture as He comes to me in my storm.  The smile says, “This may hurt a bit but it’ll be good for you”.  Again those words: Take courage!  It is I.  Do not fear.  I have plans to prosper you, to bring you good.

Peter’s response is interesting.  Immediately he says, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water”.  He asks to step out into the rough water, out into the danger.  He doesn’t wait for Jesus to finish coming to the boat, but instead wants to meet Jesus someplace out there in the tumult.  For most of us it is an odd choice.  We like to hunker down where we are at and wait for Jesus to come to us.  Peter does not consider the risks – he just wants to be closer to Jesus sooner.  If only that we’re our default choice.  If only we would be so eager to step into the risky and unknown and unfamiliar just to come closer to Jesus sooner.  If only we sought Jesus as much as Peter did.  If only.

When we are willing to step out for Jesus, we too will hear those words echo: “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not fear”.  May we trust in the Lord and respond faithfully to His call: “Come”.


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Pray, Trust, Know

Reading: Matthew 14: 22-25

Verse 25: Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.

After feeding the 5,000, Jesus sends the disciples off across the lake.  They were a crew that liked to stay with Jesus.  We do not have very many examples where Jesus creates separation from the disciples.  But in today’s passage, Jesus “made” them get in the boat and head across the lake.  Our passage reveals three reasons Jesus did this and they are lessons for us as well.

The first is Jesus’ desire for solitude.  After dismissing the crowd, Jesus goes up the mountain to pray.  Jesus often found space and alone time to talk with God.  It is one of the best models He gives us and one we should seek to practice often.

The second is Jesus’ desire for the disciples to trust Him.  We do not know if Jesus foresaw the storm but we do know the last time they were out on this lake they feared for their lives.  They have a recent bad experience with this lake and a storm.  It was when Jesus awoke and calmed the storm that they felt safe again.  Now they head out without Jesus.  They must trust in His continued care even though He is not physically present with them.  At times, so must we.

The third is to demonstrate Jesus’ absolute power over everything.  In the middle of the night, as the boat is buffeted by wind and waves, “Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake”.  As the storm goes on, the disciples’ fears must have escalated.  Memories of almost sinking and now being without Jesus must have created some tension in the boat.  Jesus finishes praying and He returns to the disciples.  To see Jesus walking on the water must have helped solidify their belief in Jesus as the Son of God.  Just as God is, so too is Jesus omnipotent.  Knowing that Jesus is truly Lord of all brings us great comfort and reassurances as we journey through life.  To pray often and to trust always and to know Jesus Christ as Lord of all, these are the building blocks of our faith.


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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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At Work

Reading: Genesis 37: 12-28

Verses 23 and 24: They stripped him of his robe… they threw him into the cistern.

Joseph does not have the best of days.  He heads out to check on his brothers and the flocks and ends up being sold into slavery.  His brothers’ hatred of him most directly leads to this event.  But the hatred did not begin today.  It is something that has been building.  The favored son comes alone, wearing that coat that Dad gave him, and evil thoughts are at hand.  Our text reads, “They stripped him of his robe… they threw him into the cistern”.

We have a tendency to want to blame someone when bad things happen to us.  Sometimes we identity a person or group of people and we cast blame on them.  Sometimes it is an occurrence of nature that causes our hardship.  Sometimes when all else fails, we blame God.  Seldom do we look inward right away to find the source of our troubles or hardship.  Joseph probably first blamed his brothers and then maybe Israel for sending him out alone.  At some points He probably questioned or blamed God.  From what we know of Joseph, it is unlikely that he became introspective.

In reality, many had a hand in what happens to Joseph in our passage today.  Israel has favored and spoiled Joseph.  This day he sends him off alone to a group of brothers who are jealous and dislike Joseph.  Joseph himself has helped build the animosity by sharing his dreams and by tattling on his brothers.  Satan has also been at work, fanning the flames of anger and planting thoughts of murder.

Although God is not mentioned in the text for today, God is also surely at work.  He softens Reuben’s heart and then Judah’s.  The caravan doesn’t just happen to come along.  Yes, in our lives nature, the bad decisions of others, and our own poor choices can cause us hardship and trial.  But in it all, God is still present.  God still has the bigger picture in sight.  His plans for us are ultimately for good and to prosper us.  As Joseph’s story unfolds, trials continue to come yet God remains at work always.  The same is true for us.  As the story of our lives unfold, may we trust into the God who loves us and seeks good for us.


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Trusting

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-7

Verse One: Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry.

The psalmist cries out to God for an answer to his prayer: “Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry”.  He asks God to “give ear” to what he requests.  Then he adds a reminder to “see what is right”.  He wants God to not only listen and to pay attention but to see it his way as well.  This is a familiar prayer pattern for most of us today.  We want God to hear our prayers and to answer as we have requested because, as you can see God, we are right and correct in what we are asking for.

To back up his case and to help God act on his behalf and in the way that he desires, the psalmist builds his case.  He invites God to examine him and to test him.  He is confident that God will not find any sin in his life.  He reminds God that he has kept “the words of your lips” and has not followed the ways of the violent.  The psalmist reminds God that he has “held to your paths”.  Some of the time we also add similar reminders to our prayers.  We add things like: went to church each Sunday, read Bible every day, served at the rescue mission last month… We remind God that we have not gossiped or caroused too much.  We also build our case and on occasion we may even pray the “if You’ll only…” prayer.

The psalmist closes this section by again asking God to hear and answer.  He requests that God would “show the wonder of your great love”.  It’s almost as if he were reminding God of how much God loves us as a way to prompt God to show it by answering his prayers.  It is an “if you really love me” kind of prayer.  We too go here once in a while.  We too imply that because God loves us, He should answer as we desire.

All of this seems to both bring God down to our level and to elevate our needs above God’s understanding.  God knows our needs.  God has plans to prosper us.  May we bring our humble and honest prayers simply to God, trusting that He will hear and trusting that He will act according to His will and to His plans for us.


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Holding On

Reading: Genesis 32: 22-31

Verse 28: You have struggled with God and men and have overcome.

In a time of need, God once again comes to Jacob.  Even when Jacob cannot quite put into words the things he is feeling and needing, God enters the situation because that is what Jacob needs God to do.  God and Jacob wrestle and Jacob shows his inner grit and determination.  This time of physical testing leaves him changed.  He will always walk with a limp and he will have a new name.

As they wrestled, Jacob’s hip was touched and was wrenched.  Even this painful injury that would result in Jacob limping for the rest of his life could not force him to let go or to give up.  He held on.  He continued to wrestle with God.  Jacob passed this test.  The limp he carried forth will always remind him of when “You have struggled with God and men and have overcome”.

Jacob also walks away with a new name.  God has deemed him worthy to carry on the covenant.  This is the result of Jacob demanding a blessing from God.  He held on and would not let go of God until he received it.  Jacob demonstrates boldness and confidence by holding on until his answer is given.  He asks God for something big and holds on, expecting God to answer his request.

In our relationship with God, do we wrestle with God and stick with it so that we also overcome?  In our prayers, do we demonstrate Jacob’s boldness and determination?  When we need God – whether for an answer to prayer or for some other involvement in our lives – we should expect God to come through.  We should be open and honest with God.  At times that means we will be demanding.  Like Jacob, our prayers should be big enough that they demand an answer.  We should pray with the expectation of our answer and we should wrestle with God until the answer comes.  God desires good for us.  Do we wrestle with God like we trust this promise?  May we, like Jacob, cling to God, holding on to Him for all we need.