pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Sheep of the Shepherd

Reading: John 10: 11-18

Verse Fourteen: “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”.

In the ancient Jewish world the occupation of shepherd was looked down upon. In spite of people like Moses and David being shepherds, it was still a job that came with much scorn and ridicule in Jesus’ day. So when Jesus, this man who some saw as the Messiah, called Himself a shepherd, it must have raised an eyebrow or two. It seems to always shock the people when God chooses someone or something unlikely to lead or lift up… the last of Jesse’s sons, the stutterer, the dreaded tax collector, the title of shepherd. Anything is possible with God.

Despite being a shocking choice to His audience, the choice of shepherd makes perfect sense. In His role as Savior, Jesus will endure scorn and ridicule from the religious authorities, the Romans, and even from the people He came to save. Like a shepherd, Jesus Will and continues to protect His sheep. He continues to lead and guide and teach His sheep, fulfilling His statement, “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”. He helps us to know His better and He knows each of us by name.

In His role as Good Shepherd, there are also some reversals. Jesus comes not just for those now in the pen – the lost sheep of Israel – but He also includes “sheep that are not of this pen”. Other peoples will come to know the voice of the Good Shepherd. Jesus also reverses the roles of sheep and shepherd. Traditionally, the lamb was sacrificed to make atonement for the sins of the person or the people. Jesus instead chooses to “lay down my life” as the atoning sacrifice. Jesus goes to the cross on His “own accord” as the final offering to pay the price for the sins of the world.

As the sheep of the Good Shepherd, may we walk each day in His care and protection, being ever blessed by His love and mercy.

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Forever Grateful

Readings: Psalm 23 and John 10:27

Psalm 23:4 – “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.

The understanding of God and Jesus as shepherd and us as the sheep is a common reference in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, respectively. Sheep and shepherds were very common in these times, so they were a good concept to use as an illustration. Today we may still think of sheep as dumb and prone to wander, and this remains true. But, if we are honest, these two traits describe us pretty well at times too.

Admittedly, at times I can say and do some ‘dumb’ things. I think many more than I do or say; fortunately my filter works fairly well. These occurrences seem to be less common as I mature. The same can be said of my wandering. In my youth and college days I wandered far at times. Thirty plus years later and I am better but still deviate from the righteous walk of faith now and then. As I have matured in my faith, my walk is closer aligned to God’s will and purposes for my life and to the example that Jesus set. Upon reflection, perhaps you too can see this pattern in your life.

Verse four of the 23rd Psalm reads, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”. This speaks of the protective role of the shepherd and the corresponding lack of fear in the sheep. The rod was used to ward off would-be attackers. Today, we call on the name of Jesus and use the Word of God to ward off Satan. The staff had a curved hook on the end that would be used to pull the sheep back into the fold, where it was safe. Today, the voice of the Holy Spirit is our hook – calling us back into the fold, back into relationship with Jesus.

John 10:27 reads, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me”. When Jesus said this, a shepherd with twenty sheep could step into a pen with hundreds of sheep and he could call out his twenty. The other sheep would even move away from the voice of a stranger. This analogy is still true today. When we are in tune with the voice of Jesus, we follow His voice and shy away from all others. Others would include the voices of self, the world, and Satan.

I am forever grateful that Jesus knows me and that I know His voice. I am forever grateful for the Good Shepherd’s love and care and protection. May I ever dwell in His fold. May it be for you too!


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He Calls

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verse Eighteen: “Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!'”

In John’s gospel first Mary Magdalene and then Peter and John see the empty tomb. John records that he “saw and believed”. But for Mary and Peter and most others, coming to understand the resurrection is just beginning. They are looking for Jesus to return and resurrection is not the same as return. It is not like they experienced with Lazarus and others that Jesus brought back to life. Jesus will no longer have human breath in Him. The breath that now comes from Jesus is the Holy Spirit.

Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb to properly care for Jesus’ body. She was there Friday night when Joseph and Nicodemus temporarily laid the body in the tomb. She then observed the Sabbath. And today she returns to the tomb focused on offering one last loving act to her Lord. It is from this perspective that she says “they have taken the Lord” several times. Even the appearance of two angels in the tomb does not dislodge Mary from the pursuit of why she came to the tomb.

“Thinking He was the gardener”, she asks the same thing: where is Jesus? And, in a word, it all changes for her. Jesus simply says, “Mary”! Through her grief and tears and confusion, His voice cuts straight to her heart. Instantly she knows this is her beloved Jesus. She cries out “Rabboni”, her personal name for Him. Jesus then tells her the good news: “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”. Jesus is risen! Jesus is alive forevermore!

Mary goes to the disciples and shares some incredible news: “I have seen the Lord”! Mary knew in her heart right away that Jesus is risen and she shares this with the disciples. She recognized Him right when He called her name. Jesus calls our names too. In rising, Jesus defeated the power of sin and death. He calls your name, inviting you to live a life in Him that is free from the bonds of sin and death. He calls us each by name. May we ever walk in Jesus’ light and love.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!


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Grumble, Grumble

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verses 4-5: “The people grew impatient… they spoke against God and against Moses”.

“Spoke against” is code for complained. For any parent who has gone on a long road trip with kids, you have gotten to this point. No matter how many snacks, no matter how many movies, no matter how many coloring books and games – you get there. Your answer to the 100th “Are we there yet?” is not any more satisfactory than your answer was the first time, and the complaining begins. Inevitably it spreads.

God has provided His chosen people with food and water day after day. He has led them safely day after day. He has parted the sea and then drowned all the Egyptians. Through the years your clothes and your sandals have not worn out. And yet this day they get to complaining. It started small but has become a roar. It may be that they’ve been by this sea before. It may be that this journey has been a lot longer than it could have been. But the people’s disobedience has caused God to say “one more time around the desert” more than once. They have wandered longer than needed solely through their own sin.

When we get to the point of complaining, our memory goes a bit defunct. We too forget how God had cared for and fed and led us. We forget how God has accepted our repentance over and over, always offering forgiveness. We forget all those times when God rescued us and guided us through. Instead of using all of our experiences with God to draw strength and as a reason to seek God, like children, we complain. Complaining is dangerous. The Israelites encountered some snakes that snap their memories back into place and lead them to repent and to seek God’s help.

God does not send snakes when we complain. The poison that we bring into our relationship with God does enough damage. It separates us from God. It sometimes even ramps up the complaining. In those moments when we are tempted to begin to grumble at God, may we instead take a breath and reflect on God’s presence and blessings in our life and then go to God with a prayer of thanksgiving. Then we can humbly and honestly come to God with our petitions and our prayer made from a good heart will be holy and pleasing to God. God is good. Trust.


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Connecting

Reading: Psalm 19: 1-6

Verse One: “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord; the skies proclaim the work of His hands”.

The psalmist, who we believe to be King David, really connects to God when he takes in the natural world. In today’s verses, the Psalm concentrates on the heavens – the sun, moon, and stars. To David, observing creation itself allows one to connect to God and to hear God’s voice. While one can certainly sense God’s power and presence when one gazes up at the night sky, God’s presence also speaks in the smallest elements of creation as well.

God calls out loudly to me at the birth of a child. In those first moments as a newborn wraps it’s tiny hand around your finger, one cannot but feel God’s creative power and His sacred presence. The new little life shouts that God is there. One can also feel God’s hand at work in the created world in other ways. At times, the gentle rain has connected me deeply to God’s care for us and our earth.

This past week I was blessed with a reminder of how slowing down and being present can allow God to bless us. As I sat and talked with a family in preparation for a memorial service, one of the sons shared how his Mom just loved to sit for hours, in the corner chair, watching God’s world outside. She loved watching and listening to the birds, especially the golden finches. She loved looking at the beautiful flowers and plants and watching the breeze gently sway the trees. I could imagine her just sitting there, soaking in God’s handiwork, feeling close to her creator, to her Lord and Savior.

As I reflected on this I am reminded of my need to intentionally slow down and to connect to God through His sacred created world. It is a need we all share. So take a little time today, go for a walk or sit in the chair and look outside. Grab a cup of tea or a little snack and spend some time with God’s created world. Allow the sites and sounds and smells to connect you with God and to speak to you today.


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Ever Present

Reading: Mark 1: 9-15

Verses Twelve and Thirteen: “At once the Spirit sent Him out into the desert, and He was in the desert forty days”.

It is a quick turnaround from hearing, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” to being sent out into the desert. Our passage shifts abruptly though, saying, “At once the Spirit sent Him out into the desert, and He was in the desert forty days”. In life we too can experience this as well. Some of our ‘desert’ times come upon us quickly and out of nowhere. In an instant we can find ourselves in a desert place.

For Jesus, hearing those words of love and approval certainly carried Him during His forty days in the desert wilderness. So too will our faith carry us. The time we invest in prayer and Bible study and worship are all ways that we build up our reservoirs of faith. It is the experience of being intimately connected to and being deeply loved by God that carries us when we find ourselves in a desert place.

During His forty days, Jesus relied heavily upon God. In the times of temptation by Satan, Jesus turned quickly and surely to God. The words He quoted from scripture were words that Jesus studied and learned growing up. The passages and insights we gain as we invest in our times of study and meditation with the Word of God will be the words of strength and hope that we turn to in our desert times.

The wilderness experience for Jesus was not a time away from God. It was just the opposite. It was a time when Jesus was in even more connection with God than He was during the busyness of everyday life. We also find this to be true. When life has come down on us and we find ourselves in that desert place, there is often a stillness or a quiet. In these moments we find that we do turn to God more often and quicker. And just as God used Jesus’ time in the wilderness to prepare Him for ministry, so too does God work in us during our desert times to produce growth in our faith and to deepen our relationship with Him. It is in our desert times that we truly come to see God in a new and better way. For God’s ever present care and love when we need Him most, I say thanks be to God.


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Hope

Reading: Isaiah 40: 27-31

Verses 29 and 31: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”.

Our section today opens with the people complaining that God is disregarding their cause. The people feel hidden from God. At times, we find ourselves here, don’t we? We too can feel apart from God or as if God does not care about what is happening in our life. We think that if God loved and cared for us, that He would do something – right?

To us and to the Israelites, Isaiah says, “Have you not heard? Have you not seen”? Isaiah is saying, with all of your experience with God and with all you’ve read and heard about God, how can you say this about God? How can you question? This line of thought, this logic, makes sense to us in the good times of life. Yes, God has been there for us over and over. But when we have been in the trial for a while, the illogical rises up. We begin to doubt, we begin to feel abandoned, we begin to question. It is then that we must remember the words of Isaiah: “The Lord is the everlasting God”. Our God is a forever God, a God that never grows tired or weary.

Isaiah then adds some wonderful reminders about how God loves and cares for each of us. Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”. When we are weary, God wants to give us strength. When we are weak, God wants to give us power. But we also have a part. When our hope rests fully on God, we will be renewed. Sometimes it is hard to hold onto and to live into this hope. Sometimes life brings a lot at us. No matter what, though, when we turn to God in hope, He will lift us up. May we ever cling to our hope, to the Lord our God.