pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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For Others

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse Three: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty… oil of gladness… a garment of praise…”

The opening lines to Isaiah 61 are a clear call to love all of our neighbors.  These are the words that Jesus read after He came out of the time of testing in the wilderness.  As He stood in the temple, these words from Isaiah 61:1-2 were used as the announcement for what He had come to do.  As Jesus’ ministry unfolds, it becomes clear that these things are what His disciples and all who will follow Him are called to do as well.  There is much joy in proclaiming these words as Jesus did and claiming our role to follow in His footsteps.

During this Christmas season, the children have risen to a new level of awareness in my heart.  Perhaps it is because these are the ones who often have the least and who are most vulnerable.  Whether it is buying gifts for an “Angel Tree” child or assembling a “Christmas ShoeBox” for one in need, it makes a difference.  Whether it is ringing the Salvation Army bell for an hour or two or helping to assemble a holiday food basket for a needy child’s family, it makes a difference.These are but a few of the ways that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, can help a child or their family to feel loved this holiday season.  In doing so, we will “bestow on them a crown of beauty… oil of gladness… a garment of praise…”

May we each find ways to do for others this Christmas season.  Whether big or small, it all makes a positive difference.  May we bless the children with God’s love this Christmas season!

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Are We Willing?

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.

Ezekiel is writing to a people who are discouraged and downtrodden.  They feel like the sheep he is describing who are lean, weak, and driven away.  The Israelites have been in exile for many years.  The years have separated them from each other and many of them from their faith.  Even those who did not go into exile have become mixed in with the people living around them.  Ezekiel looks at the people and sees their deep need for a shepherd to rise up who will gather the scattered flock, protecting the weak and poor among them while ruling with justice, compassion, and love.

The need for a good shepherd is very real today.  On a personal level, we need one to walk the walk of faith.  Our inner bent towards sin is in almost constant need of the voice of the good shepherd to guide is on the right path and to keep us from wandering off of the narrow way.  We also need the good shepherd to lead us where we should go at times – to those green pastures.  As we follow Jesus and His teachings and example, we are following the one true good shepherd.  As we follow, we in turn open ourselves up more and more to the voice of the good shepherd as we feel the nudges and hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

This voice calls us to the least and the lost.  It calls us to those who do not know the good shepherd.  The lost are wandering around in the darkness, going from one thing to another, never finding what they truly need.  Others are marginalized and struggle in the simple day to day of life.  The Holy Spirit calls us to them as well.  The least often cannot begin to hear the voice of the good shepherd calling out to them until their basic needs are met.  The need for shelter, food, and safety must be met before there is space for the good shepherd to speak into their lives.

The Good Shepherd says, “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.  He says this to us in our times of need and encouragement.  He calls us to help bring this message to those who are hurting and broken and lost and discouraged.  Are we willing?


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Seeking and Searching

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16

Verse 11: “I will search for my sheep and look after them”.

Our relationship with God is a two-way street.  We are created by God with a spark of God inside each of us as we are created in His image.  From birth God reveals Himself to us through the world and through the people in our lives.  As we grow and mature, we begin to sense our need for something more in life, for God.  If one chooses a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then this need is filled with faith and with God.  some folks choose to try and fill the God-hole in their life with many other things, none of which ever satisfy, all leaving them searching.

Once we choose God over the things of this world, then we begin to seek more of God.  Our journey of faith becomes one of continual learning and growth.  We always seek to know Him more deeply, more intimately.  We spend time in His word, time in prayer, time in worship, and time in fellowship with other believers.  This all deepens and strengthens our faith and our relationship with Jesus, enriching our lives and bringing us His joy, love, peace, and hope.  In turn, God eventually calls us to go forth and share all of this love, hope, joy, and peace with others.

God also pursues us.  God desires to be in a relationship with all people.  This is what today’s Psalm is all about.  Verse eleven begins with these words, “I will search for my sheep and look after them”.  Jesus, our good shepherd, desires to search for, find, bring in, and care for all the sheep.  The psalmist goes on to explain how, writing, “I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered”.  This speaks both of us during those days or seasons when we have wandered and also of those  who have chosen the wide path of the world.  He seeks to call all people to Himself.  Once the call is heard, Jesus will “bring them back into their own land”.  He will connect us into communities of faith where we find encouragement, support, learning, unity, fellowship, a sense of belonging.

Our passage today ends with words of healing and restoration: “I will search for the lost and the strays.  I will bind up the inured and strengthen the weak”.  Jesus searches for and seeks out all, both the sinners and the saints.  Thanks be to God that Jesus has found you and me.  Thanks be to God that He always calls our name.  Thanks be to God that Jesus continues to search for the least and the lost.  Thanks be to God that Jesus seeks to bring them healing and restoration and to bring them into the family of God.  Thank you Jesus for your love.


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To God What Is God’s

Reading: Matthew 22: 18-22

Verse 20: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

There are certain times when we must give something.  In our real life worlds there are times when I must give hours to my job.  There are times when I must give time to my school work.  There are times when I must give attention to my health.  These are but a few of the demands on our time.  I also must give love to my family and friends, compassion to those in need that I encounter, kindness to the stranger.  And lastly I must give money to the cell phone company and to the grocery store, to the restaurant and the university.  There are many things that demand our time, our emotions, and our money.  Although many of these are “required”, to decide how and where we “spend” all that we have left takes some serious prioritizing.

In today’s passage, Jesus is faced with a tough question.  To answer one way will anger the religious leaders; to answer the other way will anger the political leaders.  It appears to be a no-win situation.  At times our choices on how and where we spend our time, emotions, and money can feel the same way.  To all gathered there that day, Jesus gives an amazing answer.  He says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”.  If this coin stamped with the image and title of Caesar is due to Caesar, give it to Caesar.  For the most part we willingly follow this concept today – paying our bills and taxes to whom they are due.

The second half can be a bit harder.  Yes, I can give that one hour on Sunday morning and that hour once a month to my committee.  And, sure, I can give $10 a week to the offering.  Well, okay, I’ll even go once a year to cook and serve the meal at the rescue mission.  Others far exceed giving these 70 hours and roughly $500 a year to their image-bearer.  Many in both groups wrestle with the question of giving enough.  They realize how much God gives them and they wrestle with what they are giving to Him.  It is a good wrestling.  God will place upon our hearts the call for our time, our emotions, our money.  It is a personal decision born out of a personal relationship with our God.  We are made in God’s image, blessed by His love and care.  This day, what shall we give?


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Endless Pursuit

Reading: Exodus 20: 18-20

Verse 18: When the people saw the thunder and lightning… they trembled in fear.

Moses has come full circle.  It was on this mountain that God gave Moses his call to go to Pharaoh to free the Israelites.  The Lord God had “heard their cries” and responded.  The plagues in Egypt were powerful displays of God’s might, but they were directed at someone else.  Since they have been freed, the Israelites have grumbled and complained, questioning both Moses and God all along the way.  And now Moses calls them to this mountain.  We hear the people’s reaction: “When the people saw the thunder and lightning… they trembled in fear”.  This God who passed over their first born, who parted the sea, who brought quail and manna and water – now He looks a bit angry stop that mountain.  They have grumbled and questioned all along.  It is not surprising that they are afraid and want to keep their distance.

Moses calls the people to the mountain to hear a word from God.  The people fear that they will die if God speaks directly to them, so they ask Moses to be the messenger.  Really, they are asking Moses to once again stand between them and God.  Through their fearful eyes all they can see is the smoke and thunder and lightning.  To them, the desert and even this mountain are a vast wasteland.  There is nothing there, yet they have survived.  Over and over and over again God has provided and led and protected them.  They have missed the lessons along the way: trust in God, keep the faith, live into being the chosen people, and, most importantly, God loves you.  Lost in their fear and negative attitude, they cannot see God for who and what God is.

At times we walk this road too.  We become so stuck in our situation or in the past that we cannot hear God’s word for us.  The word may be grace or love or forgiveness or peace or strength or hope.  Just as with the Israelites, though, God never gives up.  God keeps on pursuing us no matter what.  Thanks be to God for the endless pursuit of each of us, deeply rooted in His love.  Thanks be to God.


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I Will Be with You

Reading: Exodus 3: 7-15

Verse 12: And God said, “I will be with you”.

Moses has been selected to go to God’s people to lead them to freedom.  God has heard their cry and has seen their suffering at the hands of their slave drivers.  The God of justice will use Moses to guide the people to a “land flowing with milk and honey”.  The plan all sounds great – except to Moses, who asks God,”Who am I…?”

In each of our communities there is certainly suffering.  It may be caused by difficult financial situations or by things such as drugs or alcohol addiction.  It might be caused by mental illness or by the past experiences caused by generational abuse of one type or another.  It might be caused by prejudices and bigotry that keep a segment of the community on the outside looking in.  There are people suffering due to events of nature and others suffer because of the actions and poor choices of individuals.  There is no shortage of things that cause suffering.  To some of us, God calls.

Just as Moses was called and sent by God, over the centuries God has called both prophets and ordinary people to speak words of hope and love and healing and, at time, hard words of truth.  God has seen and will continue to see the suffering in our world and He has and will continue to send those who will lead the people away from sin or out of the oppression and suffering that they are enduring.  Often the person has looked at the task ahead and questioned God and uttered some form of Moses’ “Who, me?”

Yet God reassures the doubtful and fearful Moses; Moses will not go alone.  When we sense a call from God to lead someone to freedom or to offer relief from suffering, we do not go alone either.  Just as God went with Moses, God will go with us as well.  This is a promise we too can trust and lean into as we respond to the call that God has placed upon our hearts.  Like Moses, may we find reassurance in these words: “And God said, ‘I will be with you'”.


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Here I Am

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Verse Five: Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

Moses’ life has settled into a simple daily rhythm.  Life consists of eat, sleep, and take care of the sheep.  For Moses, the wilderness is a welcome refuge.  He grew up safe and protected and in need of nothing as the son of the daughter of Pharaoh.  Then he found out about his heritage, defended a fellow Israelite, and ended up fleeing Egypt in fear for his life.  Jethro had taken him in and life was slow and quiet and peaceful, just as Moses wanted it.

Moses is not alone in his preference for the simpler, more relaxed lifestyle.  Many people choose to do not something because it is just easier.  There is more ease and less commitment to sit on the couch after supper instead of going for the walk.  It is easier to sleep in and watch cartoons than it is to get the kids up and ready for church.  It is easier to ignore the problem when a child has stolen something than it is to knock on the door and engage your neighbor in the difficult conversation.  It is easier to change the channel than it is to watch the news footage and to feel the urge to send some money.  This list can go on and on, can’t it?

Moses encounters the God that he has largely been absent from in the burning bush.  Moses is drawn to this strange site.  Once there at the bush, God has his attention and He calls Moses’ name.  Moses senses who he hears and responds, “Here I am”.  He accepts God’s call to engage again.  God goes on to instruct Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground”.  It is a gentle reminder that to be in the presence of God is to be in a holy place.  When Moses realizes just where he is at and just who he is with, fear overtakes him and he hides his face.

At times we too can wander into the presence of God.  Life is just rolling along as we tend our sheep (or sit on the couch or snooze or turn away…) and suddenly God intercedes in our lives.  An injustice or a tragedy or something else triggers compassion or righteous anger or empathy and we are called by God to engage, to get involved, to make a difference.  The unjust or unfair situation is our ‘burning bush’.  Then we too must decide.  As God calls “John” or “Susan” or “Henry” or “Jen” or …, do we too say, “Here I am”?  May it be so.