pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Too Good

Reading: Luke 24: 36b-40

Verse 38: “He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds'”?

I can remember when I first re-met my wife. I had a big crush on her in high school and then we went off to college and to begin adult life thereafter. Then one night her and a friend happened into the place I and a friend were. Without going into much detail, I found myself on a late night stroll at the camp she was working at that summer. I could not believe what was happening. My head reeled as I drove home.

It had been three great years with Jesus. The things He taught and did would stay with them forever. But then there was the trial and the crucifixion and placing the definitely dead body in the tomb. And oh the hurt that was felt and the tears that were cried these last three days. What they could not believe could ever happen now felt so real and permanent. Then there were some saying Jesus was risen and two others said they met and walked and talked with Him. But the last three days are so real.

Jesus steps into the disciples’ presence and says, “Peace be with you”. The disciples were startled and frightened. The last three days felt so real. They had begun to have those ‘what now?’ conversations and to consider the possibility of what they would do or return to. Jesus entering their lives again was not one of the things they considered.

As I drove home that night, I thought it all too good to be true. I was sure she would not even take my phone call asking for a date. And I was more sure she would not say yes.

“He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds'”? The better question is why wouldn’t they be troubled and doubting. We too would have been in the same place mentally and emotionally. So Jesus offers them some proofs, saying, “Look at my hands and feet” – don’t you remember where they put the nails? And then Jesus invites them closer: “Touch and see”! He is among them, flesh and bones and all. It is not a ghost. Touch and feel and see Jesus right then and there.

The men and women in the room that day will take what they see and touch and feel and they will go out into the world to witness to what they know. They will go forth to share the good news that Jesus defeated sin and death and will help all who believe to do the same. It is good news still today – yes, almost too good to be true. We too are called to help all to hear this good news, to know the risen Christ. May we go forth to bear witness this day and every day.


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Fully Known

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verses One and Three: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me… You are familiar with all of my ways”.

Our Psalm today speaks of a deep intimacy with God.  It reminds me of a best-friend relationship where you finish each other’s sentences and you seem to have this connection so you know what the other person is thinking.  But when I think of God, to have such a relationship could only be one-sided.  I could never know God so completely.  Yes, we can know God well and our knowledge of and intimacy with God can grow as our faith develops, but there will always be so much more to God that we cannot even begin to fathom.

Our psalmist opens with this line:  “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”.  The Psalm goes on to say that God knows our every coming and going.  God knows all of our thoughts and all of our actions.  Verse three finishes with, “You are familiar with all of my ways”.  God knows everything there is to know about us.  God could finish our sentences even if we only gave God the first word.  It is both a beautiful and a scary thought to realize that we are this well known by God.

It is beautiful because it means that God is constantly aware of us.  That means God rejoices when we love or serve or care for anther.  It means God knows when we extend mercy or grace or forgiveness.  It is beautiful because it means that God knows all of the desires of our heart and knows our prayers before we ever put them to words or even think them.

But these thoughts are also scary.  God knows the impure or unkind thought before it is ever fully formed in my heart and mind.  God knows all the things that I have done and said that I told myself were just my little secrets – no matter how big or how small.  Not only does God know my sins, but God knows all of my fears, all of my doubts, all of my questioning, all of the times I was less than God created me to be.

It is a deep, deep intimacy that God has with us.  God knew us before we were ever formed in the womb and God knows us inside out all the time.  We are fully known.  In that thought, I realize how little I know of God and God’s love.  In spite of knowing all about us, God loves us anyway – the good and the bad fully included.  It is a glimpse into the depth of God’s love for you and me.  All we can say is thanks be to God.


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Favor

Reading: Luke 1: 26-30

Verse 30: “Do not be afraid… you have found favor with the Lord”.

Out of the blue, an angel visits Mary.  Her first reaction is what I think mine would be: fear.  The angel greets her and then tells her that the Lord is with her.  Maybe her fears subsided a bit knowing that God was with her.  In that moment, though, Mary must have really been wondering what would be coming next.  I would be!

Our passage tells us that Mary was “troubled” – again, a reaction I think most of us would have if an an angel appeared to us.  At a minimum, if I am being honest, knowing that I was on the brink of something big, I would be really troubled.  While it is probably quite exciting when an angel comes for a visit (I assume it is), there is also the scary recognition that things are about to change pretty seriously.

The angel then says to Mary, “Do not be afraid… you have found favor with the Lord”.  The first part is good to hear, but the second part is great to hear.  Mary has found favor with God!  Hallelujah!  Praise be!  Amen!  Yes, it is indeed wonderful to know that she has found favor with God.  While in this setting it is particularly good news for Mary, our reality is that this is good news for us as well.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we have all found favor with God.

In the book The Shack, the lead character Mac and God have frequent conversations.    Most of the time when the conversation is about people in Mac’s life, they are people that he could do without.  Each and every time God says, “Oh yes, I am especially fond of that one”.  Every time.  Although it is just a fictional book, I believe this part to really be true.  God is especially fond of every human being because we are all children of God.  He loves us all.  And some – those who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior – have found favor with God.  Talk about good news!  Hallelujah and amen!


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Encourage One Another

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 13-18

Verse 17: “And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

When we think of the end times or of the end of our earthly life, many people experience fear and worry.  For many there is an unknown feeling that comes when we think of death.  When a loved one or good friend passes on, some left behind wonder where that person has gone to and some even wonder if death is just the end.  They grieve without hope.

In today’s passage, Paul reminds all believers of the hope and promise that is given to all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior.  It is a promise that we can live and trust into.  Paul begins by cautioning us not to think as the pagan world thinks, as those who have no hope.  Instead, Paul reminds us of the death and resurrection of Jesus that provides the way for all who die in Christ to gain eternal life.  We too will one day experience resurrection into the glory and wonder of heaven.  Paul tells the Thessalonians and us that this is true also for all who have already died in Christ.  Paul assures them and us that our loved ones will also rise in Christ.  In verse 17 he writes, “And so we will be with the Lord forever”.

Our passage today closes with these words: “Therefore, encourage one another with these words”.  Paul exhorts us to take these words of hope and promise and to be encouraging one another with them.  At times in our lives we need to remember and hear these words.  Maybe that is today.  We also know people who need to hear these words of hope and promise today.  With whom and how can we share these words of hope and promise today?  May we be open to the lead of the Holy Spirit as we seek to be Jesus’ light and love this day.


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The Lord Is Near

Reading: Philippians 4: 1-9

Verse Five: Let your gladness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.

Paul has just finished writing about pressing on towards the prize for which God calls us heavenward.  He has spoken about those who believe in Jesus having a citizenship in heaven.  Paul has written of the glorious transformation that will come – the one that He and other believers eagerly await.  Our passage today begins with Paul’s encouragement to “stand firm in the faith”.

Paul quickly shifts gears to plead with two people who appear to be fighting.  Paul asks others in the faith community to help them solve their differences and to “agree with each other in the Lord”.  Paul then again shifts gesrs, maybe giving evidence if why we should be of one mind.  In verse five he writes, “Let your gladness be evident to all.  The Lord is near”.  As we rejoice in the Lord, it really should be evident to all.  And when we feel anxious or begin to worry or doubt, Paul reminds us to take it to the Lord in prayer.  He is near so we should quickly go to Jesus in prayer.  When we do, we will find that peace which passes all understanding.  To summarize: stand firm, be of one mind, rejoice in the Lord, pray often, live in His peace.

Sounds like simple steps.  They can be.  But at times these simple steps can be so hard.  My mind easily returns to that pile of to-do on my desk, to that person I need to visit, to that uncomfortable conversation that needs to happen…  At the core of it all is trust.  Do I trust God to lead, to give me guidance, to give strength, to give all that is needed for what is at hand?  Paul’s advice is good advice: pray.  In all things, turn it over in prayer.  When I do, I find His peace.

Paul concludes today’s Word with things to fill our minds with that remind us that He is near.  These are things that keep us close to God and that keep our gladness evident.  Paul calls upon us to think of whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable…  He is calling us to think of God in Jesus Christ.  When we choose to keep our minds on Jesus, we are ever reminded that “the Lord is near”.  When Jesus Christ is near, peace and joy are close as well.  This day, may we rejoice in the Lord!


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One True God

Reading: Exodus 32: 1-6

Verse One: When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming…

Over and over and over again, God has provided for and protected the Israelites.  Whether it was opposing armies or food or water or which way to go, God has been there.  Moses has been their leader through it all.  He has led by example and has always been faithful to the Lord God.

As we grow and mature in our faith, we come to trust in God and His presence and protection.  Our experiences when God had been there over and over builds our trust in Him and we come to believe that God will be there again and again.  But this can be such a fragile balance.  Something happens and doubt or fear or anxiety creeps in.  We turn to something other than God to curb our doubt…  we ignore what is going on… we cope in some unhealthy way.

We can relate to the Israelites’ choice in our passage today.  Moses has been gone a long time.  A LONG time.  They fear going into the presence of God.  They look up and see the “thick darkness” that Moses disappeared into.  We too can feel that our lives have slipped into such a place.  We can feel as if God were absent during these times.  But God is always present.  Like the Israelites, it is we who turn away.

In Moses’ absence, the people turn to Aaron.  He is #2 in command.  Aaron is a little less steady, a little less assured, a little less connected to God.  He wants to be a pleaser.  He fashions a golden calf to soothe the people’s fears and doubts.  The people willingly worship this idol – they are glad to be rid of their feelings of discomfort.  Our inner self can relate well.  Like Aaron, our inner self is willing to take over, to just do something to solve or at least alleviate our situation.  Like the people, our inner self is willing to do whatever to not feel those bad feelings.  We turn to other or self instead of turning to God and trusting in Him.

In our lives, when the storm clouds rise or when worry or doubt or… well up, may we turn to the only One who can save and protect – our One true God.  May we trust in God alone.