pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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More Closely

Reading: John 10: 27-30

Verse 27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”.

Today’s passage begins with “my sheep listen to me voice”. Jesus is implying that His disciples and followers listen well to His voice. Although at times we do, it can be a struggle to always listen to Jesus’ voice. On day one the sheep do not know the shepherd’s voice. Didn’t happen by day 2 either. But over time the sheep would come to know their shepherd’s voice. The sheep’s connection to their own shepherd’s voice would grow to the point that the shepherd could call his flock out from a pen of many flocks that had sheltered together for overnight protection. The sheep would come to him as he stood out in the gate and then would follow as he led them to pasture.

Just as it takes time and training for the sheep to know and trust the shepherd, so too does it take time for a believer to really know and trust the voice of Jesus. We can easily have an acquaintance with Jesus and can recognize Him in the stories we read in the Bible and hear about in church. Where it gets challenging is when we are in a world full of sheep from lots of different flocks. When the voices of all those other beliefs and systems start to clamour loudly, we can be distracted and we can struggle to hear Jesus’ voice. As if this were not bad enough, Satan’s voice joins in. The great deceiver can whisper lies that sound like truth. This can be the source of our greatest temptation. Between all of these things it is not always easy to discern and follow the voice of Jesus.

The key is found in the sheep and in the sheep pen. In the noisy pen, amidst all the bleating of the sheep and through the voices of many shepherds calling out, the sheep can detect and go to the voice of their shepherd. We too can develop this ability. We develop our ability by listening over and over to the voice. We do that in our quiet time, in worship, in small groups, in classes, in personal conversations… With each experience hearing Jesus’ voice not only does our knowledge and ability to discern it grow, so too does our trust in Him. This leads to the “I know them, and they follow me” part of today’s key verse. Each day may we seek to know Jesus more and more. As we do, He comes to know us more and we are able to follow more closely. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, help me to discern your voice above all the others – especially mine. As I spend time with you, may I follow ever more closely. Amen.

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Certainties

Reading: John 10: 22-26

Verse 24: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

The Jews had a clear idea in their minds of who and what the Messiah would be. They were certain that the Messiah would restore Israel to its full glory. Jesus did not match the vision that they were certain of in their heads. But they were so certain of it that they could not see Jesus for who He was – the Messiah. In today’s passage they say to Him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

I too struggle with certainty. At times I have been certain of how God should answer this prayer or open that door or close this one. At times I have been certain of the plan I have made or of the direction I think we should go. At times I have been certain that this action or that thought or those words were justified. In almost all of these cases, my certainty has gotten me in trouble and has melted away before the power of God.

Jesus’ response is sure and is straight forward. Jesus reminds them that He did tell them who He is. His claims of divinity brought anger and words like blasphemy. Jesus also reminds them of the miracles that they have witnessed. It is between two certainties that the Jews are caught. They are certain that God would not come in the flesh like this and they are certain that the miracles reveal divine power. Jesus then connects back to what He was talking about recently. We find this conversation at the beginning of John 10. It is about the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus explained the loving and caring relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. Jesus speaks of being the gate – both into the pen and into eternal life. He also reminds them that He will lay down His life for His sheep. Jesus returns to these ideas in today’s passage. He bluntly tells them “you are not my sheep”. This is why they do not believe even though they have seen the miracles. Their certainty is the barrier that prevents faith in Christ.

My certainty has done this too. Whenever I place my will and my wants before God’s will and His plan, I am trying to live by the ways of man. Over and over I have found that this is not the best path. I find the best path when I listen to the voice of the Shepherd, when I follow the voice I know. I plainly see that Jesus is the Christ. It is by faith alone that I must follow. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the only sure thing. In you alone can I truly trust, in you alone do I find hope and meaning and purpose. Step by step may I walk in faith, trusting you with all that I am. Strengthen me to follow closely. Amen.


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More Like You

Reading: Acts 9: 16-20

Verse 17: “The Lord… has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”.

The Bible is full of people willing to suffer for their faith. A long line of prophets walk through the Old Testament and into the New to set the stage for Jesus. Like each prophet before Him that suffered for the word of God, Jesus preaches and heals and ends up being crucified. In the book of Acts, the early church also assumes the role of suffering for the good news of God. They are flogged and beaten and eventually stoned and crucified for sharing the name of Jesus.

In our passage today, Saul suffers a little reverse suffering. He is struck blind by Jesus. He spends three days fasting and praying. In verse 16 we learn that Jesus will reveal to Saul the extent that he will suffer for the name of Jesus. After the revelation and three days are over, Ananias arrives at the house and tells brother Saul, “The Lord… has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”. Before Saul ever speaks a word in Jesus’ name, he is identified as a brother in Christ. He has been claimed by God. Saul receives his sight and is then baptized. Through the waters of baptism the old Saul is washed away and the new Saul e emerges. We read that he spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. During this time he must have learned the truth about Jesus because he proceeds to begin to preach in Jesus’ name.

The waters of baptism begin Saul’s new life in Christ. The old is washed away and he emerges a new child of God. We too are made children of God through our baptisms. We are marked and welcomed into the family of God as we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For Saul, this is a jumping off point. Baptism is for us as well. It renews who we are at our core and begins our walk if faith. Baptism is just one of the ways that God renews us. For example, each time we confess our sins and receive grace we are made new again through the blood of Jesus.

The suffering endured by the believers is also a way to experience new life. For those who offer the ultimate gift, their lives, they experience new life in eternity. For those who suffer in this present age, we also experience new life. When we give sacrificially or when we suffer persecution or trial because of our faith, we are refined and made more into the image of Christ. Through suffering we become more like Him, bring made new, more in His image, over and over again. We too rejoice because we are growing in our faith and in our likeness to Christ. Each day may we become more like Jesus.

Prayer: God, you draw us closer in so many ways. Each day we are called to take up our cross and to follow Jesus. As I try to walk in His footsteps today, may I become more like Christ. Amen.


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Life

Reading: John 20: 24-31

Verse 31: “Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name”.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, Thomas was not there. He rejoins the group and they tell him that they have “seen the Lord”! It was on the evening of the first day of that week. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus early that morning and He appears to them that evening. We recall that even though the disciples heard Mary’s account and Peter and John witnessed the empty tomb, the disciples are not yet at the point of belief. During this first visit Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit and tells them that He is sending them into the world. A lot more goes on here than a quick visit.

Thomas wants proof that it was really Jesus who had been there that evening. He wants physical proof – to see and touch to know that it is Jesus. We have all had or been a part of those “you gotta see this” moments. What is happening or has occurred sounds so outlandish or unbelievable that visual proof is required. When we do see the proof, we scratch our heads, but cannot argue or deny it because we saw it with our own eyes. I think this is where Thomas is. Sounds great, but I need to see to believe. After a week passes, Jesus appears again and offers the scars to Thomas’ touch. Jesus goes on to encourage him, saying, “Stop doubting and believe”. Thomas’ response? “My Lord and my God”!

Jesus uses this as a teaching moment. He acknowledges that because Thomas saw, he was able to believe. Jesus then adds, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. This statement encompasses almost all who come and all who will come to believe in and follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Through the testimony of the Bible and through our own personal encounters with God we have come to believe in Jesus. We are the blessed.

This is the conclusion of this section and of the chapter: “Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name”. By faith we believe. Through belief we find life – life both now and in the time to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, thank you for your Word – the Word that lived among us some 2,000 years ago and your Word that continues to live in the pages of the Bible. It is life and life to the full. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: John 12: 20-36

Verse 25: “The man who loves life will lose it, while he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life”.

Our passage today opens with some Greek Jews in town for the celebration of the Passover. They would like to meet this Jesus guy. We can only assume that they have heard something about Him. We do not know if news of Jesus has spread to where they live or if they have heard stories once they arrived in Jerusalem or if they were there for the triumphal entry and are curious.

Many people today are like these Greeks. They have heard of Jesus or have crossed paths with someone who follows Jesus and they’ve become curious. But often there is something else driving them to want to know more. Sometimes life takes a turn or twist and they are searching for understanding or peace or comfort or strength or… Sometimes one just arrives at a point where they realize that there must be more than “this”. For many other reasons, folks come looking for Jesus.

Jesus replies by saying that a seed must die in order to produce more seeds. This is a great analogy. If we remain centered on or just focused on ourselves, then we will remain just one seed. But if we are willing to surrender self, then we can live for much more. In verse 25 Jesus says, “The man who loves life will lose it, while he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life”. When we hold onto our earthly titles and possessions, then we love our life. When we do not cling to the things of this world then we focus in on eternal things and we find eternal life.

Jesus goes on to equate the idea if dying to self with serving and following Jesus. We must follow Jesus’example if we are to be a Christian, a disciple, a follower. Jesus’ example centered first on loving God with all of our being and, second, on loving others as He first loved us. Love was at the core of who Jesus was and it guided all of His decisions, words, and actions. The first question Jesus asked was: how can I love God fully today? The second was like it: how can I fully love all that I encounter today? Great questions to live by. May we do so this day and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me to love as you love. You are awesome and wonderful and loving and forgiving. You are easy to love. This day and every day, may that love grow. As I live out each day though, my struggle is in loving all I meet. Work on that in me, O God. Help me to die within to those things that limit my capacity and ability to love others as you love them. Day by day, make me more like Jesus. Amen.


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Faith Calls

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

Verse 11: “They saw the child with His mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped Him”.

The Magi first noticed the star when it appeared in the sky. They then made the choice to follow it to wherever it leads. They had no map. They simply believed that the appearance of the star had significance. Perhaps they had an ancient Hebrew text from the time of captivity; maybe they had heard long ago the Jews living in exile speak of Isaiah’s prophecies. Whatever was the case, they noticed and journeyed out in faith.

Somehow sensing that they must be close they stop in the big city to inquire, to gain guidance. King Herod hears they are asking around and gathers the Magi and the leading Jews together to help find this newborn King of the Jews. Paranoid Herod helps point the Magi towards Bethlehem. Upon arriving there, Matthew tells us that the Magi “saw the child with His mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped Him”. The Jews knew what they were talking about. The Magi leave gifts before departing for home by another route, foiling Herod’s plan for the time being.

Do you think the Magi ever questioned their journey? Do you think they ever faltered? The Magi demonstrate great faith on the journey. They must have sensed something bigger than themselves and they put their faith into action. Faith called. They were not deterred when they discovered this king they sought was not in the capital, the big city. With new information they continue to follow the star to tiny Bethlehem. Finding the star stops over a meager house, they knock anyway. Upon greeting the young and very poor parents, they still continue on inside. And when the Magi see the mother and child, they somehow know that this is the King that they have traveled far to worship.

I wonder if the Magi sensed what Peter and Andrew sensed, what James and John sensed. He called and they followed. The light called out and the Magi followed. To this day, faith calls. Faith continues to call us to step out, to go beyond the known and familiar, to go where we cannot see. May we, like the Magi, like the first disciples, step out in faith today, trusting where the light leads us. May we see with eyes of faith, guided ever by Jesus’ light and love.

Prayer: Lord, when I wonder, give me a heart willing to follow. When I sense you moving, give me feet willing to step. When I sense you calling, give me hands willing to serve. Illumine my eyes and heart with your light. Amen.


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Even Me

Reading: Ephesians 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given me for you”.

Paul experienced God’s hand in a powerful way. He had not always been Paul though. He was born Saul and was raised in the Jewish faith. Saul excelled at learning the Law and eventually became a Pharisee, one of their religious leaders. He was very devout and followed the Law inside out. When the Christians began to try and spread the good news of Jesus Christ, Saul made it his personal mission to persecute them, to stomp out this new religion. Saul was enemy #1 of the early church.

And then, one day as Saul traveled to Damascus to arrest and persecute the Christians there, he met Jesus. In a jarring encounter, Jesus changed Saul forever. The #1 enemy became the #1 evangelist, travelling all over the known world preaching about Jesus Christ and His love. Saul took on the name Paul, the Gentile version, and became the apostle to the Gentiles – all who were outside the Jewish faith. His conversion story is what Paul is writing about when he writes, “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given me for you”. His name alone struck fear into Christians; now, by God’s grace, he was one of them!

As I think about and reflect on this mystery, I am convinced of the fact that God can and will use anyone for His glory. He chose Saul. That means that God can do anything with anyone. God can turn the hardest-hearted atheist into a preacher of the gospel. He can take the most vile criminal and turn them into a leader in a church. God can grab ahold of the one we least expect and use them in amazing ways.

Yes, we are all within reach of God’s grace. We are all available ammunition in God’s battle with the evil and darkness in our world. God desires to use us all for the building of His kingdom of love and grace. Thank you God for using even me.

Prayer: Lord, you call me by name. You ask that I lay down my selfish desires, that I take up my cross, and that I follow you. May it be so. Use me as you will, O God. Make me fully yours. Amen.