pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 13-25

Verse 25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

What does God expect or require of you? What did Jesus expect of his disciples and of those that would follow him? If we were to make a list to answer these questions, would the list be a collection of things to do or would it detail how to live our lives? Paul is answering these questions for the church in Rome in today’s passage.

The church in Rome was falling into the trap that Paul has been caught in for most of his life. Faith was a form of legalism – of checking boxes and staying within the lines defined by the Law. Faith was not a way of life. To help them understand this Paul goes back to Abraham, the father of Israel, the patriarch of all patriarchs in the Jewish faith. In our passage today Paul points out that God credited Abraham as righteous because of his faith in God. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his trust and obedience to God’s direction. The Law was not even in existence yet. Entering into this right relationship with God through faith alone made Abraham and his descendants heirs of God’s promises. For Paul, all who believe in Jesus fall into that line of descendants. Belief is what gets one in that line, not following any set of rules or lists that we can make up.

Paul defines belief in Jesus as the only action necessary to be “credited” as righteous – being right with God. He wants to be clear that righteousness does not come from following the Law or any other set of rules, but from faith in Jesus Christ. In verse 25 Paul reminds those in the church in Rome and all who follow Jesus why belief in him is essential: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. In dying for our sins, Jesus removed the weight of the Law – that sacrifice for this sin, this sacrifice for that sin… – and he paid the price through his blood. A final sin sacrifice was offered by one for all. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are made righteous before God. In being raised from the dead, Jesus defeated death, opening the way for us to receive eternal life. Both are gifts, given to us without price, without any requirement except believing that Jesus did this for each of us. These is no law or rules that we can follow to receive or earn these gifts. They come through faith alone. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, I am so grateful for these gifts of love – born to the cross and into the grave for me. You stood in my place and took the punishment for me. And you did not stop there. You walked out of the grave, breaking those chains too. Thank you for the gifts of love that make it possible to experience joyful and abundant life now and to enter eternal life one day through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.


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Covenant God

Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7

Verse 7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants”.

Photo credit: Geda Zyvatkauskaite

Yesterday as we looked at this passage we focused on how we are to keep the covenant. We are to “walk before God and be blameless”. God set this as the goal and Jesus lived out the example, giving us a goal to aim for, a model to follow. This is “how” we are to live out the covenant. Today we turn to the “why”.

God chose Abram to be the father of not only many nations but of God’s children. This was not something Abram decided and then set out to accomplish. God is the one who offers covenant relationship to Abram and Sarai. God is the one who invites them to be a partaker in the covenant. God is the one who upholds the covenant as God rules over the earth. The question for Abram and Sarai is this: will they trust God to be the covenant keeper?

Abram falls face down before God. He recognizes that God is supreme, almighty, all-powerful. This is Abram saying “yes” to God’s invitation into covenant relationship. In response God changes his name to Abraham, which means “father of many”. Later in the story God also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah, reflecting her role as the mother of nations. God defines the covenant this way: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants”. God will be the God of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants forever. The time frame of the covenant again reinforces who is in control and who is the covenant keeper. Like Abraham and Sarah, we are finite, limited, human, flawed. God is eternal and forever and perfect. Abraham and Sarah would seek to walk blamelessly before God, just as we try to do. They would not be perfect, just as we are not perfect. Down through the generations, Abraham and Sarah’s descendants would break the covenant over and over. Again and again, God would keep the covenant of grace, loving us forever. Over and over we end up at the table of grace, being made right again, being restored back into relationship again. This is God’s nature, it is his character. God remains our God. God will always be our God. This is his covenant promise, sealed by his love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, you are forever, you are in total control. You are steadfast and true in keeping the covenant to be our God – to be my God. You love us no matter what. Thank you, God, for loving even me. Amen.


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God Offers…

Reading: Genesis 24: 34-38

Verse 38: “Go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son”.

Since our reading last week in Genesis 22, there has been significant changes in the house of Abraham. Isaac has grown up (he is about 37) and Sarah dies at 127 years of age. Abraham decides that Isaac must marry and knows that his bride must come from his own kinfolk. He tasks his chief servant with the job of finding a suitable wife for his only son. In the beginning of chapter 24 the servant is sworn to finding a wife for Isaac from amongst Abraham’s family that still lives in Nahor. The chief servant makes the journey and prays to God for a certain sign. Today’s reading is the telling of how God led the servant to Rebekah. It is the story of how God led and guided the servant to the very time and place and person so that it could be revealed who God has chosen to be the bride of Isaac.

The story of Isaac and Rebekah is symbolic of how God relates to his people and of how God sees our relationship with him. There is first a promise of a pledged love – just as the servant describes what Isaac has to offer and share with a potential bride, God also reveals what he has to offer a potential believer. God offers humanity love, grace, hope, peace, joy, life… God wants to share these things in mutual relationship with us. All that God has is offered freely to those who choose to accept the invitation to be part of the family.

We will explore this story further in tomorrow’s reading. Until then, ponder and give thanks for all that God has given you.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for all that you bring into my life. May I be as willing to share these gifts with others on my journey today and every day. Amen.


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Walk on in Faith

Reading: Genesis 22: 1-14

Verse 8: “Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering'”.

Our passage from Genesis 22 is one of those stories of faith that we read and wonder if we could do what that Biblical hero did. For me, this passage is right up there with David facing Goliath, Daniel facing the lions’ den, Esther facing the king, and Peter taking that step out onto the water. When our faith feels strong, these are actions we too could take for God.

Abraham has had a long story with God. As a young man he was asked to trust God and, as he left his father’s homeland, it began a long walk with God. After many years the promise of a son came true when Abraham was 100 years old. And now, just over 110, God asks for Isaac as a sacrifice. It is not to occur then and there. No, Abraham must make a three day journey first. This in itself would test many of us and would push us to the brink – walking for three days with nothing to pray and think about other than offering your only child. Abraham walks on in faith.

As they begin to head up the mountain, Isaac has put the pieces together – wood, fire, knife… He asks Abraham, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering”? That question might have been enough for me to turn and head back down the mountain. But in an awesome testament to his faith Abraham says, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”. Again, Abraham walks on in faith.

Today, as we consider this story, what step of faith is God calling you to take? Reflecting on how God has been with you as you have stepped out before, how will you begin to walk forward in faith today?

Prayer: Lord God, as a new chapter opens, grant me the courage to step forward in faith and trust. Help me to lean on you in moments of fear or doubt. Guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Radical Hospitality

Reading: Genesis 18: 1-8

Verse 2: “When he saw them, he hurried… to meet them and bowed low to the ground”.

The church service has run long again and there won’t be much time before the next mini- congregation enters the sanctuary for their time of worship. You know from past similar experiences that the line will now be extra long at your favorite brunch spot. And your tummy is already growling. When the pastor finally says the last “Amen” you are ready to bolt for the exit. It is then that you spot that new young couple you saw moving in a couple houses down your street.

As Abraham stood at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day, he was probably weighing a little nap versus going back out there in the hot sun. It was then that he saw three men standing nearby. Instead of a quick wave on the way to ducking into his tent, we read that this was his response: “When he saw them, he hurried… to meet them and bowed low to the ground”. Abraham welcomed them into his presence and extended generous hospitality. He asks them to stay, bringing water to wash their feet. He invites them to rest in the shade of the tree while having the finest bread and tenderest calf prepared. When this is ready, he serves it with milk and curds. Abraham offers the best that he has to these three strangers.

Would you pretend that you did not see the young couple and rush off to brunch with the regulars? Would you wave and point at your watch, adding a little shrug as you head the other way? Or would you make your way over to them, introduce yourself, and welcome them to the neighborhood and hopefully to the church? Would you, like Abraham, go the extra step to offer them some choice food and drink, extending an invitation to begin a relationship?

As we will see as we continue to read tomorrow, when and perhaps because Abraham extended radical hospitality, he experiences the divine. As we make the choice to offer radical hospitality, maybe we too will experience the power and might of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. May it be so for our churches and for each of us as well.

Prayer: Holy Lord, lead me today to be like Abraham, choosing to offer all of myself to others today. May I give the very best that I can. Meet me in that space, O Lord. Amen.


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By Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise… but through the righteousness that comes by faith”.

As Paul and the rest of the earliest church were sorting out just how Jewish one must first be to become a follower of Jesus Christ, he penned these words that we read today. Before becoming an apostle, Paul was known as Saul. In that phase of his life he was a self-proclaimed Jew among Jews. He was a very devout Pharisee who knew and followed the letter of the law. As the early church grew and began to add Gentile believers, a huge debate arose over just how much of the Jewish faith must be followed to become a Christian.

In our reading for today Paul points to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Paul chooses him for two reasons. First, he is one of the pillars of Judaism. His faith is one of the models. God declares Abram righteous because of his faith. As we’ve been reading, God called and in obedient faith, Abram went where God led. He stepped out and followed God. Second, at the time there was no law. It had not been given yet. Paul is saying that one can be saved by faith apart from the law. Paul, known as the apostle to the Gentiles, is not in favor of applying Jewish laws to the Christian faith. Paul himself became a believer when he met the risen Lord and then entered into a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. For Paul it had nothing to do with the law. In the next chapters Paul will go on to argue this point further. Martin Luther will pick up these texts many hundreds of years later as he works out his “justification by faith alone” doctrine that will rock the church.

Even though the New Testament clearly spells out that one is saved by faith alone we can often feel like we must do good works or follow some set of prescribed steps to be saved. God does not have a giant balance scale that one day weighs out our good versus bad. We know from the scriptures that as soon as we confess and give our sins to God, they are wiped away – they are no more. Nothing is being stacked up on the “bad” side of some mythical scale. Yes, our faith will lead us to do good things. That is how we live out the love of God within us. It is the model Jesus set for us. As we follow Christ, living out our faith, may his ‘why’ become our ‘why’. Jesus loved others because the love of God within him overflowed into the lives of others. May we do the same. May the sharing of God’s love be our grateful response to our God who saves.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your unconditional love and grace. It is certainly not deserved but you pour it out upon me anyway. I definitely cannot earn yet it is still there in unending abundance. It is an amazing love, an amazing grace. Thank you. Amen.


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Actions of Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11: 8-16

Verse 8: “By faith Abraham, when called to go… obeyed and went”.

Within chapter eleven, the “Hall of Fame” of faith, we find many examples of those who demonstrated great faith. Our section today is focused on Abraham. As a younger man, while still known as Abram, he moved with his father to Haran. They settled there and began to establish themselves. Then, in Genesis 12, Abram receives a call from God to move to a new and unknown land. God promises Abram that he will become “a great nation” and then, a handful of chapters later, God promises him that he will have descendants as numerous as the sand on the shore who will one day be given the Promised Land. In faith Abraham responded to God’s initial call and moved his family, slaves, livestock… to this unknown land. They were strangers and foreigners living in tents. God too was faithful. The promises and covenants came and were fulfilled. Abraham and Sarah had many children and they became established in the new land.

We too will hear God’s call. We too will wrestle with some of the calls – especially those that lead us away from the familiar and comfortable. For most of us, the call is not to pack up all we own and to follow God’s lead to a new home. For a few it is their call. Most of us experience a call that is much more local. Our calls are to help the family down the street, to befriend that lonely soul, to take the time to listen and to be present to the one that is hurting, to serve at church as a teacher or on a team or committee, to tutor that student struggling in school… God calls us in many different ways and to a wide variety of service. No matter the call, our willingness to step out and to follow where God leads demonstrates our faith. To listen and then to obey, to trust and then to step out in faith – these are the actions of faith. May these be our actions today and throughout our journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, each day you offer opportunities for me to step out and to step up. Give me a willing and obedient heart. Amen.


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Righteousness

Reading: Romans 4: 17-25

Verse Twenty: “He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God”.

Paul connects back to the Old Testament today and recounts the faith of Abraham. Paul refers to the story in Genesis 17 where God promises to make Abraham and Sarah into a great nation. Despite being ninety-nine and ninety years old, they “in hope believed” what God promised. Paul writes that Abraham “faced the fact that his body was good as dead” and chose the possibility of God. Yes, he did question and doubt a bit – the Genesis passage tells us they laughed at first – but in the end, “He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God”. Abraham chose to be “fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He promised”. We know from hindsight that Abraham does go on to be the father of many nations.

Within this story we too can have hope for our faith. We see that our God keeps His promise even if we question or doubt or laugh or take a little time to rachet up our faith. This is because the promise is based on God’s power and love, not on ours. Abraham shows faith in spite of the seemingly impossible of his context. Deep down, he knew that anything was possible with God. We also trust into this fact. Abraham chose to believe and chose to live into this promise from God. Even though we may wrestle and question and doubt now and then, we too are called to choose to believe. We are not perfect, God is. In the end, we must come to trust into our relationship with God and to believe that God can do anything in our lives as well.

For Paul, righteousness comes through Jesus Christ. Paul writes, “for all who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord”, God will credit us as righteous. Jesus not only died for our sins but was also “raised to life for our justification”. For us, this means that Jesus makes us right before God. He washes away our sin and makes us holy and pure before God. When we falter, when we stumble, Jesus is there to pick us up and to return us to a place of right standing before God.

In Deuteronomy God said, “I will never leave or forsake you”. This too is a promise. It is a no matter what promise. This promise is carried out today through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Through the Spirit, Jesus remains ever by our side. Like the Father, the Son keeps the promise for us. Thanks be to God for the power and presence of Jesus, our righteousness.


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Listen, Remember

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3a

Verse One: “He summoned the elders, leaders, judges, … “This is what the Lord says..”

Joshua gathers up the leaders and officials of the twelve tribes of Israel – all the men in charge of the people.  In this farewell chapter Joshua wants to make clear to them the correct path forward.  Just as it has been for Joshua and for Moses before him, so too must God remain at the center of the lives of these leaders and those they lead.  So Joshua does not begin with his own words of wisdom, but with, “This is what the Lord says…”

God begins by reminding them of the story of Abraham.  It is a story they all surely know well but it is important to return and recall the stories often.  The story begins with “long ago” and connects to one of the most important people in their common history.  As God mentions Abraham, his wife Sarah certainly also comes to mind.  Both heard God’s promise that even at 100 they would have a baby.  The covenant would then be given: Abraham will be the father of a great nation.  Both Abraham and Sarah heard and lived out God’s promise in the covenant.  For the elders, leaders, judges, … the message is clear – listen to God and live out His covenant.

There is also a second message in our passage.  God reminds the people that they have worshiped foreign gods.  God connects not doing so with the promise of a new land.  For Abraham it was Canaan; for them it is the Promised Land.  In this warning against worshiping foreign gods, those gathered would recall the story of the golden calf and its consequences.  They would also recall the commandments brought down the mountain by Moses that told them to have no other gods or idols.  This message is also clear – love the Lord your God and Him alone.

These are both good reminders for us as well.  We live into the new covenant established in Christ Jesus, clinging to its promises as we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  May it be so each and every day.


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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.